Croydon is among half a dozen local authorities who have caught a Tory minister out in a lie over government help – or the lack of it – for installing sprinklers in council-managed residential blocks to improve their fire safety following the Grenfell Tower tragedy last month.
Croydon announced that it would retro-fit sprinklers in its taller residential blocks within a fortnight of the fire at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington. At least 80 people lost their lives and hundreds more suffered injuries and lost their homes in the blaze, which took place on June 14.
Croydon Council leaders and the borough’s two Labour MPs have since made repeated calls to the Government for funding to assist with its programme of works, which is expected to begin in October.
“The sprinklers will go into individual flats or communal areas of the council’s 25 tallest blocks at 10, 11 or 12 storeys, plus sprinklers will also be installed for residents of an eight-storey sheltered accommodation block in Addiscombe,” the council said.
The work is estimated to cost £10million.
In a House of Commons debate on July 12, Sarah Jones, the Croydon Central MP making her maiden speech, repeated the local council’s call for central government to make a significant contribution to the cost of those works.
Jones told the House, “I am proud that Labour’s Croydon Council was the first council to agree to retro-fitting all our tower blocks with sprinklers.
“I call on the Government to clarify whether they fund this, and all the other changes we need to reverse the shocking cuts to local government.
“We cannot afford not to do this.”
Yet the following week, Sajid Javed, the Conservative Government’s communities minister, told the Commons that he had had no requests for fire safety funding from any local authorities following the Grenfell disaster.
“To date, as far as I am aware, not a single local authority or housing association has approached me or my department to ask for any assistance. If they did, of course we would take that very seriously,” Javed said in a statement to the House.
Lying to Parliament is taken extremely seriously under centuries’ old House of Commons rules.
Lying to the nation over a matter as solemn as the lives of dozens of people, including many young children, is worse. Much worse.
Those weasel words in Javed’s statement “as far as I am aware” were probably a deliberate get-out clause, as the government minister will maintain that he does not read Inside Croydon.
But can he say, also, that neither he nor his senior civil servants in his department read Hansard? Or the correspondence that they receive from local authorities?
The trade website Inside Housing has obtained a copy of a letter from Labour-run Brent Council in north London, dated July 13, with an appeal for cash towards fire safety improvements similar to the appeal made by Croydon.
“The council resolved to request the government to provide the direct financial support to meet the costs incurred. This letter acts as our official request,” Brent’s formal letter states.
Inside Housing lists Southampton, Southwark, Birmingham and Portsmouth as councils which, like Croydon and Brent, are known to have contacted Javid’s department ahead of his statement.
The Labour Party has described the communities secretary’s remarks as “misleading statements”.
Which, of itself, is a bit misleading, too.
Javid lied, to Parliament and the nation.
If the Tories are dissembling so blatantly within a month of the Grenfell fire, imagine what other tricks might be tried by the government and Whitehall over the duration of the subsequent inquiry.
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