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The atomisation of responsibility…

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Data can take many forms: this month I’m using a visual image because it is so powerful.  The scene is west London early in the morning of the 14th June 2017.  The picture, taken by Natalie Oxford, shows the fire in the 24 storey Grenfell Tower block still raging, where a few hours earlier at least 80 people lost their lives.  This tragedy was triggered by a Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer which ignited a fire in a flat on the fourth floor.  The conflagration should never have spread because Building Controls and Fire Regulations are supposedly designed to contain fires like this in high rise buildings.  That is why people who could have got out in time to save themselves were instructed by notices in their flats to remain where they were.  They were initially also told the same thing by the firemen.  But the fire spread horribly quickly up the outside of the building because newly installed cladding turned out to be highly combustible.  The poor wretches who obeyed the edict to stay where they were died an agonising death in the fire, while many of those who followed their instincts and blindly fought their way through the acrid smoke and fumes down the only staircase survived.  The paradox of this deadly fire is that it happened in one of the wealthiest areas of the capital city of the U.K., and it’s cruelly ironic that the majority of those killed were immigrants from some of the poorest parts of the world.  Grenfell Tower was one of a group of high rise social housing owned by one the richest London Boroughs – Chelsea and Kensington.  The media coverage about this fire has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on everyone throughout the U.K., the effect is hard to overstate.  Chelsea and Kensington council were, for a variety of reasons, unable to respond adequately to the emergency and within three days the central government was forced to take control.  Teresa May, the vulnerable British Prime Minster, made what appeared to be a political blunder when she visited Grenfell Tower.  Apparently on security advice, she talked with officials but shunned any contact with the homeless survivors, and in a subsequent TV interview could only respond with robotic answers.  On a second visit, Mrs May still seemed to be ill at ease and lacking empathy, warmth and humanity. She has now acquired the damaging nickname: “Maybot.”  With a hung parliament her days as Prime Minister are numbered, the British people like to be led by an elite capable of showing their humanity.  Hence the widespread popularity of the late Princess Diana who ignored royal protocol and wore her heart on her sleeve. Obviously everyone was shocked by the large number of people who lost their lives in Grenfell Tower, but for thousands of other residents who live in high rise buildings, their worst nightmares were brought vividly to life.  Everybody saw the often repeated pictures on their TV screens, showing how unbelievably rapidly the flames spread across and up the outside of the building as the cladding and insulation caught fire.  And they could all imagine the utter panic and confusion as parents and their children, the elderly and the disabled all frantically struggled to find and scramble down the only staircase, engulfed in black, choking smoke.  The true identity of many of the victims who died trapped in flats, or on the stairs, may never be known as some of the more enterprising, but dishonest, legal immigrants sublet their heavily subsidised social housing to illegal immigrants.  This problem is so rife throughout all of London’s social housing that perhaps councils trying to control the high levels of sub-letting made that a higher priority at the expense of fire safety.   After the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government ordered the urgent fire-testing of the cladding used to refurbish all similar buildings and, at the time of writing, no fewer than 259 tower blocks in different parts of Britain have proved to have combustible cladding.  But the real situation is probably even worse.  In 2011, following a fatal fire in another high rise social building in South London two years earlier,  the Chief Fire Officers Association issued a report warning that three quarters of all social housing high rise blocks had not had a proper risk assessment of fire safety and could be deemed to be a potential fire hazard. Meanwhile, the recent tests of the flammability of the Grenfell Tower cladding type proved controversial as it was eventually revealed the Government was only testing the insulation behind the cladding and not the whole aluminium panel that holds and conceals the insulation.  What is beyond doubt is that the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire is now revealing systemic flaws in fire safety standards in buildings throughout the U.K.  The public outcry has resulted In retired judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, being appointed to lead a public inquiry, and the police have begun an investigation into how so many lives were lost and who or what is to blame.  Many more facts of the case will ultimately be revealed but it is highly unlikely that either the public inquiry or the police investigation will consider the underlying reality of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.  It was apparent in the aftermath of the fire that Kensington and Chelsea Council failed to jump in and take responsibility.  They were highly criticised for this, but why should they be accountable?  The council had contracted out any obligation to their tenants to another entity - The Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO).  While most Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs) usually manage just one estate, Kensington and Chelsea’s TMO had control and management of no fewer than 9,500 properties, making the organisation remote from any individual tenant.  In fact this business entity was so distant from the people whose welfare they were meant to be looking after, the tenants themselves had formed an action committee and warned the KCTMO that there was a potential fire hazard as gas pipes had been run up the inside of the only staircase in Grenfell Tower!  But let’s follow the money: KCTMO had commissioned a French company, Artelia, to manage the refurbishment of the tower block.  Another company: Max Fordham Services, were also providing building advice, and yet a further company called Rydon won the main contract for refurbishment because they were £2.4 million cheaper than a competitor called Ledbitter.  Despite their competitive tender Rydon were forced under pressure from Kensington and Chelsea Council, to drop their price on the cladding by £300,000, so it’s clear that there was an incentive to cut corners from the outset.  Beneath this tier one level of contracts was a long chain of sub-contractors which included Studio E - the architects in charge of overseeing the refurbishment, and Harley Curtain Wall/Facades - the company appointed by Rydon to actually install the cladding.  Rydon also sub- contracted vitally important work on the ventilation system, which should remove smoke in the event of a fire, to Fan Systems, the UK division of a German firm called Witt & Sohn.  Witt & Sohn then sub-contracted a Birmingham-based firm, JS Wright & Sons, to actually do the work on the Grenfell Tower ventilation systems.  I’m sure that when Sir Martin Moore-Bick opens the Public Inquiry and examines the complexity of the many sub-contracts involved in this tragic fiasco, he will find a convoluted chain that passes responsibility down the line to the next company, like a morbid game of “pass the parcel.”  Sub-contracting in the building trade is a long established practice, and over time strict building regulations had produced a workable system.  That is up until around 50 years ago when neo- liberal ideology started to chip away at any regulation.  In the last decade this deregulation strategy has accelerated as the Conservative Government attempted to banish all regulations that might impede profits by launching a “Cutting Red Tape” review, an initiative geared to generate £10 billion in cost savings.  This is despite the knowledge that Britain, according to the same government website, has fewer regulations that any other G7 country.  According to the same government review, over 2,400 regulations were scrapped.  These included, amongst countless other safety topics, fire safety inspections.  I quote: “Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job.”   A recent Guardian investigation found that the number of specialist fire safety staff who check buildings against safety legislation has dropped 25% since 2011.  These fire safety officers "carry out inspections of high-risk buildings to ensure they comply with safety legislation and take action against landlords where buildings are found to be unsafe.  Between 2011 and 2016, the government reduced its funding for fire services by between 26% and 39%, according to the National Audit Office, which in turn resulted in a 17% average real-term reduction in spending power.” The true and awful outcome of this government deregulation is the Grenfell Tower fire that claimed over 80 lives, but the judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, himself an establishment figure, is unlikely to comment on this.  Yet it is deregulation that allowed companies to use below A2 grade (inflammable) cladding that spread the fire up the outside of the building so quickly.  Under the deregulated Buildings Control regime, buildings are not usually checked by council regulators but by outside consultants acting as “experts.”  Such is the power of these consultants that simply by doing a brisk “desktop review” of the fire safety risk for a building, they can legally approve as “safe” known flammable cladding (below A2 standard) for use in a high rise block.  This goes a long way to explain why, since the Grenfell Tower fire, so many publicly-owned high rise buildings have failed fire tests on the cladding that was used to improve their insulation and appearance.  The mark of a civilized society has to be that its laws, regulations and institutions protect its citizens against corruption, malpractice and danger by enforcing high standards of behaviour.  The Conservative Government’s neo-liberal ideology is totally opposed to this.  Neo-liberals slavishly follow the negative views about regulation held by the vehement anti-communist, writer and cult leader Ayn Rand, who espoused that laissez-faire capitalism was the only moral social system worth respecting.  Rand had no commercial experience but used her plays and books to demonstrate that every individual should be free to rationally develop their own selfish concept of entrepreneurship without interference, and that any form of government regulation was anathema to business success.  The modern consequence of following such a flawed ideological theory has had a highly dangerous outcome.  Look at any of the post-fire images of Grenfell Tower and you will see that the actual concrete structure, built in 1974 to Parker Morris standards, survives intact, it was the 2016 refurbishment that went up in flames.  As this dreadful fire so graphically demonstrates, systemic deregulation has now weakened fire resistance in Britain’s buildings to the point where many hundreds have become serious fire hazards.  In the last few years lots of money may have been saved, and smug pockets lined, but this situation is going to cost £billions to put right. July 2017 
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Data can take many forms: this month I’m using a visual image because it is so powerful.  The scene is west London early in the morning of the 14th June 2017.  The picture, taken by Natalie Oxford, shows the fire in the 24 storey Grenfell Tower block still raging, where a few hours earlier at least 80 people lost their lives.  This tragedy was triggered by a Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer which ignited a fire in a flat on the fourth floor.  The conflagration should never have spread because Building Controls and Fire Regulations are supposedly designed to contain fires like this in high rise buildings.  That is why people who could have got out in time to save themselves were instructed by notices in their flats to remain where they were.  They were initially also told the same thing by the firemen.  But the fire spread horribly quickly up the outside of the building because newly installed cladding turned out to be highly combustible.  The poor wretches who obeyed the edict to stay where they were died an agonising death in the fire, while many of those who followed their instincts and blindly fought their way through the acrid smoke and fumes down the only staircase survived.  The paradox of this deadly fire is that it happened in one of the wealthiest areas of the capital city of the U.K., and it’s cruelly ironic that the majority of those killed were immigrants from some of the poorest parts of the world.  Grenfell Tower was one of a group of high rise social housing owned by one the richest London Boroughs – Chelsea and Kensington.  The media coverage about this fire has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on everyone throughout the U.K., the effect is hard to overstate.  Chelsea and Kensington council were, for a variety of reasons, unable to respond adequately to the emergency and within three days the central government was forced to take control.  Teresa May, the vulnerable British Prime Minster, made what appeared to be a political blunder when she visited Grenfell Tower.  Apparently on security advice, she talked with officials but shunned any contact with the homeless survivors, and in a subsequent TV interview could only respond with robotic answers.  On a second visit, Mrs May still seemed to be ill at ease and lacking empathy, warmth and humanity. She has now acquired the damaging nickname: “Maybot.”  With a hung parliament her days as Prime Minister are numbered, the British people like to be led by an elite capable of showing their humanity.  Hence the widespread popularity of the late Princess Diana who ignored royal protocol and wore her heart on her sleeve. Obviously everyone was shocked by the large number of people who lost their lives in Grenfell Tower, but for thousands of other residents who live in high rise buildings, their worst nightmares were brought vividly to life.  Everybody saw the often repeated pictures on their TV screens, showing how unbelievably rapidly the flames spread across and up the outside of the building as the cladding and insulation caught fire.  And they could all imagine the utter panic and confusion as parents and their children, the elderly and the disabled all frantically struggled to find and scramble down the only staircase, engulfed in black, choking smoke.  The true identity of many of the victims who died trapped in flats, or on the stairs, may never be known as some of the more enterprising, but dishonest, legal immigrants sublet their heavily subsidised social housing to illegal immigrants.  This problem is so rife throughout all of London’s social housing that perhaps councils trying to control the high levels of sub-letting made that a higher priority at the expense of fire safety.   After the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government ordered the urgent fire-testing of the cladding used to refurbish all similar buildings and, at the time of writing, no fewer than 259 tower blocks in different parts of Britain have proved to have combustible cladding.  But the real situation is probably even worse.  In 2011, following a fatal fire in another high rise social building in South London two years earlier,  the Chief Fire Officers Association issued a report warning that three quarters of all social housing high rise blocks had not had a proper risk assessment of fire safety and could be deemed to be a potential fire hazard. Meanwhile, the recent tests of the flammability of the Grenfell Tower cladding type proved controversial as it was eventually revealed the Government was only testing the insulation behind the cladding and not the whole aluminium panel that holds and conceals the insulation.  What is beyond doubt is that the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire is now revealing systemic flaws in fire safety standards in buildings throughout the U.K.  The public outcry has resulted In retired judge, Sir Martin Moore- Bick, being appointed to lead a public inquiry, and the police have begun an investigation into how so many lives were lost and who or what is to blame.  Many more facts of the case will ultimately be revealed but it is highly unlikely that either the public inquiry or the police investigation will consider the underlying reality of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.  It was apparent in the aftermath of the fire that Kensington and Chelsea Council failed to jump in and take responsibility.  They were highly criticised for this, but why should they be accountable?  The council had contracted out any obligation to their tenants to another entity - The Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO).  While most Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs) usually manage just one estate, Kensington and Chelsea’s TMO had control and management of no fewer than 9,500 properties, making the organisation remote from any individual tenant.  In fact this business entity was so distant from the people whose welfare they were meant to be looking after, the tenants themselves had formed an action committee and warned the KCTMO that there was a potential fire hazard as gas pipes had been run up the inside of the only staircase in Grenfell Tower!  But let’s follow the money: KCTMO had commissioned a French company, Artelia, to manage the refurbishment of the tower block.  Another company: Max Fordham Services, were also providing building advice, and yet a further company called Rydon won the main contract for refurbishment because they were £2.4 million cheaper than a competitor called Ledbitter.  Despite their competitive tender Rydon were forced under pressure from Kensington and Chelsea Council, to drop their price on the cladding by £300,000, so it’s clear that there was an incentive to cut corners from the outset.  Beneath this tier one level of contracts was a long chain of sub-contractors which included Studio E - the architects in charge of overseeing the refurbishment, and Harley Curtain Wall/Facades - the company appointed by Rydon to actually install the cladding.  Rydon also sub-contracted vitally important work on the ventilation system, which should remove smoke in the event of a fire, to Fan Systems, the UK division of a German firm called Witt & Sohn.  Witt & Sohn then sub-contracted a Birmingham-based firm, JS Wright & Sons, to actually do the work on the Grenfell Tower ventilation systems.  I’m sure that when Sir Martin Moore-Bick opens the Public Inquiry and examines the complexity of the many sub-contracts involved in this tragic fiasco, he will find a convoluted chain that passes responsibility down the line to the next company, like a morbid game of “pass the parcel.”  Sub-contracting in the building trade is a long established practice, and over time strict building regulations had produced a workable system.  That is up until around 50 years ago when neo-liberal ideology started to chip away at any regulation.  In the last decade this deregulation strategy has accelerated as the Conservative Government attempted to banish all regulations that might impede profits by launching a “Cutting Red Tape” review, an initiative geared to generate £10 billion in cost savings.  This is despite the knowledge that Britain, according to the same government website, has fewer regulations that any other G7 country.  According to the same government review, over 2,400 regulations were scrapped.  These included, amongst countless other safety topics, fire safety inspections.  I quote: “Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job.”   A recent Guardian investigation found that the number of specialist fire safety staff who check buildings against safety legislation has dropped 25% since 2011.  These fire safety officers "carry out inspections of high- risk buildings to ensure they comply with safety legislation and take action against landlords where buildings are found to be unsafe.  Between 2011 and 2016, the government reduced its funding for fire services by between 26% and 39%, according to the National Audit Office, which in turn resulted in a 17% average real-term reduction in spending power.” The true and awful outcome of this government deregulation is the Grenfell Tower fire that claimed over 80 lives, but the judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, himself an establishment figure, is unlikely to comment on this.  Yet it is deregulation that allowed companies to use below A2 grade (inflammable) cladding that spread the fire up the outside of the building so quickly.  Under the deregulated Buildings Control regime, buildings are not usually checked by council regulators but by outside consultants acting as “experts.”  Such is the power of these consultants that simply by doing a brisk “desktop review” of the fire safety risk for a building, they can legally approve as “safe” known flammable cladding (below A2 standard) for use in a high rise block.  This goes a long way to explain why, since the Grenfell Tower fire, so many publicly-owned high rise buildings have failed fire tests on the cladding that was used to improve their insulation and appearance.  The mark of a civilized society has to be that its laws, regulations and institutions protect its citizens against corruption, malpractice and danger by enforcing high standards of behaviour.  The Conservative Government’s neo-liberal ideology is totally opposed to this.  Neo-liberals slavishly follow the negative views about regulation held by the vehement anti-communist, writer and cult leader Ayn Rand, who espoused that laissez-faire capitalism was the only moral social system worth respecting.  Rand had no commercial experience but used her plays and books to demonstrate that every individual should be free to rationally develop their own selfish concept of entrepreneurship without interference, and that any form of government regulation was anathema to business success.  The modern consequence of following such a flawed ideological theory has had a highly dangerous outcome.  Look at any of the post-fire images of Grenfell Tower and you will see that the actual concrete structure, built in 1974 to Parker Morris standards, survives intact, it was the 2016 refurbishment that went up in flames.  As this dreadful fire so graphically demonstrates, systemic deregulation has now weakened fire resistance in Britain’s buildings to the point where many hundreds have become serious fire hazards.  In the last few years lots of money may have been saved, and smug pockets lined, but this situation is going to cost £billions to put right. July 2017 
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The atomisation of

responsibility…

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