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Saturday, 29 July 2017

Insurers, the Fire Service and the Grenfell Tower Tragedy

Not many years ago, the local Fire Brigade would have been needed to certify the arrangements for controlling the risk of fire in the Grenfell Tower, Kensington; as they were for all such buildings. Since the millennium, governments of all parties have slackened the regulations and the Fire Brigade has no statutory role in fire protection. Whether or not the London Fire Brigade was aware of the innate vice in the sort of cladding that was recently applied to the Tower is a moot point, because the brigade was no required to verify the suitability of the material.

The local authority [as the ultimate owner of the structure] and the management company did what was minimally necessary to comply with safety law: which was thereby shown to be grossly inadequate.

In parallel with the slackening of standards for fire certification of structures, so insurers made economies [thus keeping down the cost of policies] by becoming much less interventionist in regard to the structures they insured. Half a century ago, an early stage in the career of any promising recruit to the insurance industry included a period - usually a few years - serving as an Inspector. By sending inspectors to make announced and unannounced checks on the buildings and the processes that they insured, the insurer could be reasonably satisfied that the conditions applied to the policy were being met. Thus the subject of the insurance was compliant with the law on structural soundness, health and safety and any special regulations relating to what the building or the machinery was used for. More recently insurers have shunted the burden of verification to the insured, who simply "warrants" that the conditions of the policy, including legal requirements, are fully met.

 If, in such circumstances, a George Osborne heavily influenced by the Econocrats come into power, the fire brigade and the insurer have no direct influence in the operational decisions taken by the occupant of a building [such as a housing management company].

On a national scale, admonished and applauded by the Econocracy, young George pursued his historic mission to eradicate the deficit on the national accounts: by imposing austerity. The only other way to remove a deficit of the size of the British budget deficit in 2010 would have been by a massive scheme of investment to kick-start economic growth: which was ideological anathema to the Econocracy. The coalition government in which George was loosed upon the economy deliberately decided on the austerity policy, as a whole government of Conservative and Liberal Democrats. Thus they were - entirely unintentionally - responsible for the impact of austerity on the Grenfell Tower. Combine that with the previous Labour government's decision to reduce the cost of the fire service by removing their role in building certification, and a diabolical cocktail of governmental failure was served up to the residents of Grenfell and [apparently] dozens of other towers.

Little local people all went along with the flow, and some may be faced by charges of personal liability; but the real chain of high command that was responsible for the tragedy is unambiguously clear.

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