THERESA MAY is still facing a barrage of criticism for the Government’s failure to act promptly as the fire broke out and in its immediate aftermath – and for its role in causing it.
On Saturday, as estimates of the likely death toll ranged from 58 to 70 (thankfully very much less than originally feared), May met a group of Grenfell survivors who went to Downing Street and told her what they had been through. Afterwards, the Prime Minister admitted that initial support for the Grenfell families had not been good enough – but why did she have to be told?
There has been a vast chasm between the response of the local community – and people across London – since the fire started. When Theresa May heard that there was a very serious fire in Grenfell Tower, who did she think would look after those who escaped or were rescued? Did she just assume there would probably be some churches and mosques and community centres in the area and they would deal with it? The same criticism can be made of the Council.
The Grenfell survivors who met Theresa May did not grandstand in front of the press but said, to their great credit, that they would report back to the local community first. However, the meeting between the Prime Minister and the families was two and a half hours long. It has to be fair to assume that a great deal was said.
Theresa May has already said that more staff would be put on help lines and those working locally would wear hi-visibility clothing so that they could be spotted more easily. That is some way short of what is needed. Having originally promised to re-house the Grenfell homeless in the same area so that they could continue to receive support from their local community, Ms May has now realised that the housing crisis makes it unlikely that she can deliver this. She is now hinting that rehousing may take up to two years. If that is how she proceeds to help the victims, she will be met with widespread derision.
The Prime Minister has called a public inquiry and hopes to announce who will be its chair very shortly. How she will prepare for its findings is another matter. She has “told” local councils to carry out urgent safety checks on similar tower blocks. This is a very minimal response. Of course councils should have been out checking the condition of their clad tower blocks first thing on Wednesday morning – but they should have been checking their unclad ones too, and their low rise blocks as well. But what Councils need to hear from May is not a reminder to do the obvious but a clear statement of where, if the inspections discover a need to take action, the money is going to come from.
It’s not just the physical condition of buildings which needs examining. It must not be forgotten that the residents of Grenfell had been warning of the disaster that was “waiting to happen” for four years. That is a catastrophic failure. Councils also need to check what else they have failed to listen to residents about – and set in place measures to listen to residents in the future.