It is clear that the government does not have a clear plan to end the cladding crisis. Monday’s opposition-day debate was an opportunity for all sides of the house to send them a message that it is time to act, write Sarah Jones and Mike Amesbury
On Monday, Labour held an opposition-day debate to urge the government to take action to address the cladding scandal. It was an opportunity for MPs from all sides of the house to come together to send a clear message to the government to sort this crisis out.
It is shameful that not a single Conservative MP voted for our motion, despite other ministers across the house agreeing on what it said. Some Conservatives even tried to suggest that opposition motions don’t change anything.
It is up to the government to decide if they want to ignore the will of the house. As Labour shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire pointed out in the debate, when Labour was in government and lost an opposition-day debate it changed the policy the following day.
All big players in this crisis have spent the past few years pointing fingers and avoiding responsibility. The stalemate we have now is leaving hundreds of thousands of people stuck in flammable buildings. The government must put the funds upfront for remediation and pursue those responsible. They must do so relentlessly.
More than three and a half years after 72 people tragically lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire, the government should know the extent of dangerous cladding in this country.
They could have done as Victoria in Australia did and immediately establish how much dangerous cladding there is, prioritise buildings according to risk, provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation started straight away and pursue those responsible for this crisis so that neither the leaseholder nor the taxpayer carries the can.
“This story of regulation failure, dodgy developers and government incompetence has a human cost. We cannot let the government forget this”
Unfortunately, the government does not have a clear plan. The government’s handling of this crisis has lacked any sense of grip or urgency. While it has delayed big decisions and come up with flawed fire safety form processes and advice notes, people across the country have been paying the price.
This story of regulation failure, dodgy developers and government incompetence has a human cost. We cannot let the government forget this. Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk from life-changing cladding costs and unsellable properties.
Through successive lockdowns, the people living in these blocks go to bed at night with the added pressure of sleeping in a building at risk of fire as well as looming bankruptcy. It is taking a heavy toll on people’s mental health and is putting millions of lives on hold. Leaseholders have been trapped in this impossible position for far too long.
The government promised more than 15 times that cladding costs would not be passed on to leaseholders, yet they have failed to deliver. Now ministers have changed their tune and say that they want to protect leaseholders from “unfair” or “unaffordable” costs.
The government’s draft Building Safety Bill even attempts to put into law a building safety charge, and the loan schemes will only put leaseholders in more debt. Ministers know that these proposals won’t deal with the problem.
“We don’t think leaseholders should have to wait years for the draft Building Safety Bill to be amended before they are protected from fire safety costs”
Labour has tabled more amendments to the Fire Safety Bill to help ensure leaseholders are protected from unfair fire safety costs. There are other amendments tabled by Conservative backbenchers Stephen McPartland and Royston Smith to prevent leaseholders being billed for fire safety repairs to original build defects, which we support.
However, we have sought to go further, to make sure that the cost of fire safety problems from refurbishment jobs, like the cladding on the Grenfell tower, cannot be passed on to leaseholders.
During Monday’s debate, the minister said the amendments would only delay the process and that the Fire Safety Bill isn’t the right bill for it. We don’t think leaseholders should have to wait years for the draft Building Safety Bill to be amended before they are protected from fire safety costs.
It is up to the government to decide how to move forward with the amendments tabled to the Fire Safety Bill. It will determine if the changes are voted on, accepted, amended or rejected. We are hopeful that both our amendments and those tabled by backbench Conservatives get enough support to force the government into action.
It is an insult to homeowners that the Conservative government did not vote to protect leaseholders in the opposition-day debate. They have another chance in the Fire Safety Bill – they should take it.
Sarah Jones, shadow minister for the policing and fire services, Labour; and Mike Amesbury, shadow housing minister, Labour
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