Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
March 14, 2018

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"Building safety fund" needed

Spring Statement: Funding boost for housing should have included fire safety fund, says BWF CEO

The Chancellor should have ring-fenced a portion of the funding pledged for affordable housing in his spring statement for vital fire safety works, the CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) has said.

Phillip Hammond announced a cash injection of £1.67bn for the construction of an additional 27,000 affordable homes by 2022. He also doubled the budget for the Housing Growth Partnership, which invests in the supply of affordable homes, to £220m.

While BWF CEO Iain McIlwee commended the government for taking action to increase the supply of affordable housing, he questioned “why an allocation of this budget is not being diverted to fund the vital safety works that are needed on existing buildings.”

This was disappointing in the context that “only three council-owned high rises out of the 160 that failed the government’s fire safety tests have yet been reclad”.

If the Chancellor’s statement signalled a shift away from austerity, then there was no sign of a softening of attitude on funding fire safety works in council-run residential buildings from central government coffers.

The government has so far resisted calls to increase funding for high-rise residential buildings in the wake of the Grenfell fire, which claimed 71 lives and left residents homeless.

“Financial and political barriers are preventing essential works from taking place and leaving vulnerable people sleeping in buildings that are potentially unsafe.” BWF CEO Iain McIlwee

“Fire safety concerns have been building up for a number of years, either through ineffective maintenance or fundamental design, specification and installation problems,” said McIlwee. “Grenfell has shone a spotlight on this, yet still financial and political barriers are preventing essential works from taking place and leaving vulnerable people sleeping in buildings that are potentially unsafe.

“As the collateral costs of Grenfell become more apparent and reports that only three council owned high rises out of the 160 that failed the government’s fire safety tests have yet been reclad, it is imperative that we see the Treasury making an allocation for such potentially life-critical work.”

McIlwee said the BWF is advocating the establishment of a Building Safety Fund. The BWF says the fund would have similarities to the Pension Protection Fund, a statutory fund that compensates members if their pension fund becomes insolvent.

“The fund would allow housing associations and local authorities to focus on what needed to be done whilst applying to the scheme to fund the works (a defined percentage of the likely costs).  The Building Safety Fund could also manage litigation should it be deemed a third-party is liable.

“The fund would help to speed up work on existing buildings and would centralise legal matters through controlled precedence. We would recommend looking at Insurance Premium Tax as a way to levy the fund.

“The much-needed corrective works in social housing should be high on the government’s priority list and we urge the Chancellor to consider this option when reviewing the forthcoming budget.”

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