FBU national officer Tam McFarlane at Grenfell march

Government plans to fund just 12 new fire inspectors after Grenfell in “gross underestimate” of building safety crisis

  • The maximum projected cost for the government’s Fire Safety Bill would fund fewer than one inspector per brigade
  • More than 2 million homes in England could be covered by the bill
  • The FBU has called for an immediate doubling of inspector numbers and a statutory advisory body for the fire and rescue service.

The government expects to fund just a dozen extra staff to inspect and enforce fire safety in more than 2 million homes after Grenfell, new analysis reveals, in a “gross underestimate” of the resources needed to tackle the building safety crisis in England.

The revelations have prompted calls from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) for ministers to establish a permanent statutory advisory body for the fire and rescue service, allowing the voices of frontline firefighters and inspectors to influence the “dangerously short-termist thinking” of Whitehall and to provide a ‘reality check’ before final votes take place in the Fire Safety Bill.

The Fire Safety Bill, currently in its committee stage, would extend responsibility for fire services to inspect and enforce fire safety in the common parts of all of England’s multi-occupancy buildings, including building structures, external walls, stairs, and doors between residences.

The government does not know how many flats will be covered by the legislation, but a Home Office impact assessment estimate lies between 1,189,200 and 2,198,600. However, there are currently just 951 Fire Safety Officers in England qualified to carry out fire safety audits.

The government estimates that just £700,000 extra a year will be required for the inspections, which would pay for just twelve full-time fire safety inspectors. The maximum estimated spend is £2.1m, which would pay for just 35 inspectors, less than one per brigade in England.

The FBU says that fire inspector numbers should be doubled to seriously tackle the building safety crisis.

The Home Office assessment “does not include any additional enforcement costs", despite clear testimony from tenants’ organisations and housing campaigners that fire inspectors are likely to find breaches of the Fire Safety Order when they carry out audits.

The government did not consult the FBU when drafting the bill.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, gave evidence in front of the Fire Safety Bill committee on Thursday 25 June. He criticised cuts to specialist fire safety teams and called for investment in fire and rescue services. You can watch a video of Matt's submission here.

For most of the post-war era, there was a statutory fire sector body that would oversee policy and legislation, with representation from fire chiefs, fire safety experts, and frontline personnel through the FBU. The Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council was scrapped in 2004, allowing consecutive governments to pursue a period of significantly reduced oversight and deregulation of building safety.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“Three years after Grenfell, Britain’s fire safety regime remains a national disgrace and politicians are responsible. This legislation is long overdue but insufficient. The bill in its current form is a gross underestimate of the realities of the crisis. Without funding a significant increase in fire inspector numbers, this change in the law will not ramp up enforcement on rogue landlords – ministers need a serious reality check.

“At best, the government is planning to fund less than one extra fire inspector in each fire service for a massively expanded workload. We should be talking about immediately doubling inspector numbers to make a dent in this crisis.

“Oversights like this are symptomatic of a system that excludes those most affected from the policymaking process. With better engagement with tenants and firefighters, the chances of another disaster like Grenfell could be significantly reduced.

“The government must finally bring back a statutory fire sector body that represents the views of frontline firefighters, fire safety inspectors, and tenants. It’s the only way to end the dangerously short-termist thinking that prospers in Whitehall.”

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