At the Notting Hill Carnival there will be a performance of the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” charity single for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. This modern version of Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970 song, with more than 50 artists participating, was released 21 June and topped the singles chart within a couple of days. Those wanting to download the song and/or donate through The London Community Foundation, can do so via the Artists for Grenfell website.
The week that was: 31 July – 6 August
During the seventh week after the Grenfell Tower fire, an interim chief executive of KCTMO was appointed, the Treasury’s high interests rates to council’s came under the spotlight, the second cladding combination test made a further 111 high-rise residential buildings officially unsafe, and the organisers of the Notting Hill Carnival announced their plans for honouring the Grenfell victims.
Monday 31 July:
Former housing boss in Birmingham and Hammersmith & Fulham, Elaine Elkington, was appointed interim chief executive of KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation), following the resignation of Robert Black in June. She was immediately criticised for not even mentioning the Grenfell Tower fire when she commented her appointment, merely referring to the current crisis for KCTMO following the fire as “a business-critical time”.
According to an article in the Guardian, a majority of legal experts agree that the Grenfell inquiry may have to halt if the police investigation leads to corporate manslaughter charges, causing fear among survivors and residents that the inquiry being delayed or diluted.
Tuesday 1 August:
In a comment in The Times (only available to subscribers), Channel 4 News’ economics correspondent Helia Ebrahimi put a spotlight on the Treasury’s responsibility for the lack of social housing, pointing at “the outrageous debts that are being charged to social housing budgets by central government.” She used the RBKC social housing budget as an example. “This pot of maintenance money, used for the area’s entire social housing stock, adds up to just £60 million a year, but the account is £210 million in the red.”
“In this pretzel of public accounting, the council charges its own housing revenue account, which provides funding for social housing, for £79 million of debt. The Treasury, through the Public Works & Loan Board, charges interest on £131 million, with this latter tranche attracting interest rates of up to almost 10 per cent. And this at a time when the Bank of England’s base rate is effectively zero. This year the interest bill came to £13.3 million. The effect is that almost £1 in every £3 of income in the housing revenue account has been going towards debt payments. When you add in the £10 million-plus that vanishes in management fees, it’s clear that money that had been earmarked for fire safety checks, lift repairs and maintenance for the council’s 9,459 homes, including Grenfell Tower, has been slowly swallowed up in charges and fees.”
“It’s not just Kensington & Chelsea. The Treasury collects £2.9 billion of interest annually from councils, an eye-watering 25 per cent of their income. The Treasury says that a lot of the money that has been lent to local authorities was borrowed decades ago. It means, with wicked irony, that sometimes interest is being paid on buildings that have long since been pulled down.”
“And there’s more. The Treasury financed these loans by going to the bond markets and signing up to long-dated fixed-term debt, much of which was taken out when cash was far from cheap. If you took out a mortgage in 1990 that demanded 9.75 per cent in interest, you’d be in a hurry to refinance. The Treasury is stopping local authorities from doing this. And despite pleas, No 11 is not allowing early redemption of council borrowing without charging penalty rates that make it too expensive.”
“Since additional penalties were introduced, councils have gone from paying off £3 billion of debts early a year to less than £200 million, data from the National Audit Office shows. So instead of discouraging profligate borrowing, the policy has created a disincentive to pay off debt.”
“The cry from both Labour and Tory councils is that the final turn of the screw from the Treasury came in 2015, when George Osborne’s budget broke a “self-financing” rule that had been made on housing only three years earlier. Since then, while debts have stayed in place, funding for social housing has been cut. In 2012, the Treasury netted £8 billion from the self-financing deal, while the 2015 rent cut flattered Mr Osborne’s housing benefit bill.”
Wednesday 2 August:
The result of the second of the six new fire tests of cladding combinations (panel and insulation) was published. The first test, published 28 July, was of the combination used on Grenfell Tower: aluminium panels with a polyethylene core together with rigid polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam insulation. Not surprisingly, this failed the fire test and thus made 82 residential high-rises with that combination officially unsafe. 47 of these are owned or maintained by local authorities.
The second test was of the same type of polyethylene filled aluminium panels together with stone wool insulation, which had been thought much more safe. However, this combination also failed the test, and thus made another 111 high-rise residential buildings officially unsafe. Around a third of these are thought to be council-owned.
At 10pm UK time, the cladding on Dubai’s 335 meters tall and unfortunately named Torch Tower caught fire on the ninth floor and quickly rushed up the side some 15 floors. Everybody was safely evacuated and the fire was under control after a couple of hours. The same building had a huge cladding fire in February 2015.
Thursday 3 August:
The organisers of the upcoming Notting Hill Carnival (27-28 August) announced that there will be a one minute’s silence at 3pm on 28 August (bank holiday Monday) in memory of the victims and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. The silent minute will be followed by a performance of the chart-topping “Bridge Over Troubled Water” charity single for the victims of the tragedy. The charity version of Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970 hit was released 21 June with more than 50 artists participating, among them Stormzy, Robbie Williams, James Blunt, Rita Ora, Craig David, Bastille, Liam Payne, Emili Sandé, Kelly Jones, Paloma Faith, Louis Tomlinson, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Leona Lewis, Nile Rodgers and Jessie J. Produced by Simon Cowell (who also donated £100,000 of his own money to the Artists For Grenfell fundraiser), it moved to the top of the UK singles chart within two days.
Friday 4 August:
The consultation period for the terms of reference for the Grenfell Tower inquiry ended. It had received 330 submissions from individuals, community groups, campaigners, professional bodies, politicians and faith leaders. One of these is from the bishop of Kensington, the Rev Graham Tomlin, in which he lends his support to the demand that a panel of locals should be appointed to advise the inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick. According to the Guardian, “sources close to the inquiry” are saying that Moore-Bick is considering recommending such panel in his letter to Theresa May, who will ultimately decide the scope and composition of the inquiry. She is expected to do so within the next week or so.
The Fire Brigades Union argues in its submission that the inquiry should examine national safety checks, building regulations and fire safety legislation, while the Justice4Grenfell group wants the inquiry to examine local and national social housing policy and assess whether government decisions “increased risks to residents”.