Thursday, 19 May 2022

'The government feel spending money to protect disabled people's lives is not worth doing'

I print below the Disability News Service LINK article about the Government's decision to not implement the Grenfell Inquiry's recommendations on personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for disabled people living in high rise flats.

I have asked Brent Council for a comment but meanwhile John Healey, whose tireless quest for a  PEEP has featured on this blog, told Wembley Matters,  "It all comes down to money, as the government feel spending money to protect disabled people's lives is not worth doing".

With the council and private developers in Brent  totally committed to high rise development this is an issue that merits close attention by Brent Scrutiny in the near future.

 

Disability News Service  

The government has caused outrage after announcing that it would not implement measures – recommended by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry – that would have ensured disabled people could safely evacuate high-rise blocks of flats in emergencies.

The inquiry had recommended that owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should be legally required to prepare a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.

But the Home Office said yesterday (Wednesday) that it had concluded that such laws would cost too much, and would not be safe or practical, even though some disabled people have already drawn up their own PEEPs.

One of its excuses is that attempting to evacuate disabled residents before firefighters arrive could “slow the evacuation of other residents”.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, previously promised to implement all the recommendations of the first phase of the inquiry.

The Home Office announcement came nearly five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 72 people lost their lives, including 15 of its 37 disabled residents.

Appalled activists have now called for disabled-led organisations and allies to organise an urgent campaign of opposition to the government’s decision.

Sarah Rennie, co-founder of the disabled-led leaseholder action group Claddag, said: “We are outraged by the government’s U-turn on evacuation plans for disabled people.

“The government is wholly out of step with public opinion on this – even the professional sector seem shocked.

“This policy position is unethical and our community will not accept it.”

Jumoke Abdullahi, communications and media officer for Inclusion London, said: “It is truly deplorable that, coming up to the five-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the government has decided not to require high-rise buildings to prepare evacuation arrangements for disabled residents to escape.

“Deciding that PEEPs would not be ‘practical’ and that they would cost too much speaks volumes to the government’s attitudes towards disabled people in the UK.

“The government must do better. Disabled people’s lives and safety cannot be seen as a fair trade-off in order to save money.”

The Home Office has also published its response to a consultation on the PEEP proposal, which ended last July.

The document shows that more than 83 per cent of those who responded supported the PEEP plan, even though many of those taking part in the consultation were building owners, property companies, construction companies and trade bodies.

Instead of implementing the PEEP proposal, the Home Office has decided instead to consult on its own “alternative package” of measures, which it calls Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing (EEIS).

But this will only apply to the minority of buildings that have been assessed as being “at higher risk”, while residents of other flats, including disabled residents, will have to continue with the current “stay put” policy, which means being told to “stay in their flats as long as the heat or smoke from the fire is not affecting them”.

EEIS will involve carrying out a fire risk assessment for disabled people who would need support to evacuate from their flat.

The Home Office has concluded that any fire safety measures suggested for inside a disabled person’s flat after this assessment “should remain largely for the resident to implement and finance”, while it will “also almost always be reasonable for the resident to pay for adjustments to common areas”.

These measures, it says, could include additional handrails, flame retardant bedding and fire safe ashtrays.

Although a PEEP could still be agreed if it was “practical, proportionate and safe”, the Home Office said it believed “these cases would be relatively rare”.

Details of any residents who still had “issues preventing them from self-evacuating in the event of a fire” would then be shared with the fire and rescue service, who would be able to access this information if an evacuation was needed.

It is now consulting on its EEIS plans, and is asking for evidence of any existing PEEPs that “support the full evacuation of mobility-impaired residents, and that satisfy the principles of practicality, proportionality and safety”.

Peter Apps, deputy editor of Inside Housing, which has led coverage of the inquiry, was highly critical of the Home Office’s decision, and analysed its many flaws in a long series of posts on Twitter, describing the announcement as “miserable, miserable news”.

Dennis Queen, a spokesperson for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “GMCDP is really disappointed and angry at the government’s rejection of the recommendations of the Grenfell investigation and those of Claddag.

“Requiring personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for people living in high rise is really quite a minimal ask of landlords, and GMCDP has joined in with campaigning for PEEPs.

“This decision means landlords will continue to ignore best practice methods, lawfully.

“The government’s alternative suggestions do not go far enough. We will continue to support Claddag with their campaign.”

Disabled artist-activist Jess Thom called yesterday for disabled-led organisations and allies across the country to act “urgently” and make it clear that “this decision is unacceptable and will be challenged”.

She has been particularly involved in the issues around evacuation of high-rise blocks and fire safety since witnessing the 2009 Lakanal House fire, in Camberwell, south London.

Thom knew two of the children who died in the fire, and their mother, because they had attended a local children’s play project she ran.

Just as with residents of Grenfell, eight years later, they died after being told by the emergency services to stay in their flat and wait to be rescued.

Thom wrote to home secretary Priti Patel earlier this year, telling her about her connection to the Lakanal House fire, and the “indescribable” horror she felt in 2017 when she saw reports of the Grenfell fire and realised that “the warnings from Lakanal had not been heeded”.

She raised concerns in the letter about the Home Office’s decision to award a crucial fire safety contract to consultants who had repeatedly argued against introducing PEEPs for disabled residents of tower blocks.

She said this week that the Home Office’s decision on PEEPs “makes it brutally clear that the government views disabled lives as less valuable”.

Thom said the government’s decision to ignore the “clear” recommendation from the Grenfell inquiry on PEEPs, “the campaigning of Grenfell families and the powerful testimony of disabled residents trapped in buildings wrapped in dangerous cladding” was “outrageous”.

She added: “It should not be acceptable to ask disabled people to stay in burning buildings and to prioritise commercial interests over life safety.

“While this decision makes it brutally clear that the government views disabled lives as less valuable, we need individuals and organisations to urgently act in solidarity and allyship, and make it equally clear that this decision is unacceptable and will be challenged.”

Thom said: “It feels to me like they are making policy decisions based on industry’s assumptions about disability and not utilising any specialist and deeply held knowledge within disabled communities.”

She said it was “deeply troubling” that disabled people appeared to be getting “less protection and less progressive fire policies post-Grenfell than before”.

She added: “Ultimately you couldn’t get a clearer example of everything about us without us.

“Disabled lives and those of our families are on the line. Are disabled parents expected to sit with their children in burning buildings?”

 

A very thorough 2021 study  LINK  'Fire Safety in High-Rise Buildings: Is the Stay-Put Tactic a Misjudgement or Magnificent Strategy?'  is obselete with the potential to cause 'catastrophic misjudgement.'

 

ABSTRACT

 

Historically, fire incidents in high-rise buildings reveal that Fire and Rescue Services frequently rely on the stay-put tactic (i.e., occupants of high-rise buildings should remain in their apartments) during an inferno. Recent fire occurrences in high-rise buildings reveal that there are two opposing viewpoints on the stay-put tactic. First, the understanding that the stay-put tactic is a beneficial practice used to protect, control, and facilitate smooth evacuation of occupants during fire incidents. Second, the argument that the stay-put tactic is a misjudgement and futile strategy that leads to fatalities, particularly in high-rise buildings. The aim of this study was to provide awareness and understanding of fire and rescue services use of the stay-put tactic in high-rise buildings. We attempted to answer the questions: is the stay-put tactic a misjudgement or magnificent strategy?

The study adopted phenomenological research strategies with various focus groups consisting of seasoned firefighters and survivors with first-hand accounts of stay-put instructions in high-rise buildings. The study also scrutinised three case studies of fire incidents in high-rise buildings in two countries. The study revealed that the stay-put tactic is obsolete; with the potential to cause catastrophic misjudgement, mostly during conflagrations in high-rise buildings. 

There is a need to advance research on the use of artificial intelligence communication systems and infrared image detectors camera to enhance quick and smooth fire evacuation in high-rise buildings.

 


Seasonal yellow in Fryent Country Park


VIDEO: The moment when Muhammed Butt sprang a surprise move to seize more power for his Brent Buttocracy

 I apologise for the poor sound quality of Brent's original webcast, but it is worth watching for the reaction of the opposition councillors


Slow progress on Kings Drive 'shoe box' bungalows



2017 proposal amended Deccember 2018

Plans June 2019


October 2021


Yesterday May 18th 2022

Bemused residents of Kings Drive, Wembley, have been watching the extremely slow progress of Brent Council's building of four estate 'fill-in'  bungalows on the former garages and car park site on the Kings Drive estate. Glimpses of what is going on are quite rare as often there are no workers on site.

Older residents remember the prefabs that were on nearby Pilgrims Way and some compare the bungalows unfavourably with those designs. They also ask why no attempt was made to match the new build to the  red brick of the buildings on either side of the site.

Pilgrims Way Prefabs c1950s (Brent Archives)

When I was a child when one of us had a new pair of shoes we would fight to keep the shoe box so that we could make a 'house', cutting away at the box to make windows and a front door. 

The new bungalows bring back childhood memories...



Brent Labour issue press release glowing with self-praise

 


Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Fuel Poverty Action - Windfall tax debate: these excess profits didn’t fall from a tree.

 Together, BP and Shell made almost £24 billion in profit last year. In just the first three months of 2022, they made more than £11 billion.  North Sea oil and gas bosses got a combined £25m pay rise in 2021.

 

FPA’s co-founder Ruth London comments:

 

These massive excess profits are not earned. Nobody worked for them. Nobody took a risk for them. And they didn't fall from a tree like a windfall apple.

 

They come from our bills, and from the pennies customers are forced to put aside to top up prepayment meters, while children go hungry.

 

And they go into the pockets of private individuals who are often obscenely rich to begin with. Or they get invested in extracting more and more of the oil and gas that are wrecking the climate we all depend on, while renewable energy would cost only a quarter as much, and while the government could invest in insulated homes so we don't need so much energy in the first place.  

 

A windfall tax should take every penny of the extra money that these huge international corporations have been able to demand just because the market changed and they could get away with higher prices.  

 

The energy market is upside down, with the poorest customers paying the most.”

 

Fuel Poverty Action's proposal for Energy For All [1] would turn energy pricing on its head, providing a free band of energy to ensure that every household can keep warm and keep the lights on. It would be paid for by a windfall tax, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and a higher price on wasteful use of energy by wealthy consumers who can well afford to pay more."

 



[1] Petition on change.org has over 400,000 signatures: https://www.change.org/p/energyforall-everyone-has-a-right-to-the-energy-needed-for-heating-cooking-and-light


 

The Buttocracy hangs on to every little bit of power it can and even extends it - even at the expense of effective scrutiny

An attempt to loosen the  grip of the Buttocracy on Brent Council failed tonight when Labour councillors voted down an amendment that Scrutiny Committee  chairs should come from the opposition councillors so as to provide great transparency and collaborative work. Leader of Brent Council, Muhammed Butt, went further in undermining the opposition by springing a surprise decision that he would appoint the vice chairs of the scrutiny committees (from his own party) rather than the custom and practice that these should come from the opposition. 

Hithertoo that has been the case as Roxanne Mashari, former Chair of Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny said on Twitter:

Alarmed to hear of changes brought in at Brent Council to make vice chairs of scrutiny members of the majority party rather than opposition parties as has previously been the case. This change weakens democratic scrutiny with no tangible benefit to residents.

Unfortunately the legislation around local authority scrutiny is woefully lacking and allows councils to effectively mark their own homework and cut back and control the scrutiny function. It’s truly absurd. Legislative change is very overdue in this area.

Cllr Connely (Labour) will chair Resourcs and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee with Cllr Janice Long (Labour) vice chair. Cllr Ketan Sheth (Labour) continues to chair Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny  with Cllr Diane Collymore vice chair.

Paul Lorber, a previous leader of Brent Council and newly re-elected this time round, made the case for greater participation by opposition councillors. He said scrutiny should come before decision making, not after decisions had been made by Cabinet. Effective scrutiny needs real teeth and power. He said chairing of scrutiny committees by opposition councillors happened in other council. He was backed by Cllr Kasangra for the Conservatives. 

This is the moment when Cllr Butt seized more power:

 


Cllr Butt was having none of it. Such loss of power and patronage was unthinkable. In fact he was actually extending his patronage.

Clearly when there is heavy domination by one party a case can be made on democratic and representative gounds for enabling the opposition to be as effective as possible by appointing them as chairs or vice chairs of scrutiny.

The Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (202-21) Annual Survey of Overview and Scrutiny in Local Government LINK found that in 49% of councils all chairing positions are in the hands of the majority party, and in 17% most chairing positions are in the hands of the majority. In only 20% are chairing positions occupied in a politically balanced way and in just 14% are chairing positions mostly in the hands of the opposition. Importantly it  did find that scrutiny in councils where oppositon councillors hold some chairing positions tended overall to be more effective.

Shouldn't we all be in favour of more effective scrutiny?

It is worth remembering what Barry Gardiner told the Kilburn Times in 2014 after Labout won 56 out of 63 council seats on 53% of the votes LINK:

Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North, who attended the vote count, said he was delighted with the result but issued a stern warning to the group’s councillors.

He said: “I’m thrilled, of course I’m thrilled but we need to be very careful.

“It is a huge responsibility because a majority this big for any party means that we have to look within ourselves for the sort of scrutiny that we need of the policies that we ourselves are proposing.

“All of these people got elected because they managed to persuade voters they wanted to represent them in the civic centre on the council. They must remember their job is to represent the people to the bureaucratic of the council and not to represent the council bureaucrats to the people.

“We are here to be a critical voice to say where things are wrong and to set policy to change Brent for the better.”

You don't have to look just 'within ourselves' for effective scrutiny if there are opposition councillors also able and willing to do it.

 


New Brent Administration: Cabinet and Committee Posts