Tag: Deregulation

An introduction to Dominic Raab, the new Brexit sectarian


Dominic Raab, the hard Brexit Sectarian Secretary  – who has replaced David Davis following his resignation last night – is a hard right libertarian and supports a hard Brexit. He’s been a fiercely loyal pro-Brexit outrider from the backbenches, and made broadcast outings more regularly than some ministers during the general election.

As a staunch neoliberal, he said in 2010 that “positive discrimination is wrong in the same way as negative discrimination. It means people are thinking in terms of social criteria and it is anti-meritocratic.”

It’s likely that May’s decision to appoint a staunch Brexiteer to the role is an olive branch to ever-restive Leave-supporting MPs who could seize on Davis’ resignation as an opportunity to launch a leadership challenge against her.

Raab was a co-founder of Change Britain, effectively a continuity wing of the Vote Leave campaign. Raab is a former lawyer for Linklaters, advising on EU and trade law and an ex-chief of staff to Davis. Linklaters has also hired Hanbury Strategy to provide the law firm with policy advice ‘in connection with the impact of Brexit on their clients’ businesses’. It also employs former foreign secretary William Hague as chair of its international advisory group. Of course, another of Hanbury Strategies’ clients is AggregateIQ Data Services Ltd.

Raab said last year that Brexit offers the UK’s legal sector “enormous” opportunities and that Britain already had a reputation as being a “global centre for business as being the best place to resolve disputes”. The legal industry employs 300,000 people — two-thirds outside London — and revenue generated by legal activities in the UK is £31.5bn, he said, adding that legal expertise is one of Britain’s unique selling points. Advising business on Brexit is certainly a lucrative role.

Raab was speaking at the Policy Exchange in London at the launch of a report by Linklaters, which explores ways of ‘ improving’ Britain’s ‘competitiveness’ after Brexit by ‘enhancing the rule of law’. The report concluded that Brexit ‘creates an opportunity to reinforce the rule of law in Britain’ and to make laws that are clear and ‘manageable’. It says one danger is that the future pressure on the government and parliament’s time after Brexit could result in “hastily drafted and poorly scrutinised laws that unintentionally subvert the rule of law.”

The Linklaters report concludes that Brexit will not allow Britain to change its laws completely but “it will provide a once in a generation opportunity to make material improvements” and says clearer legislation will help provide businesses “with the certainty and fairness they need to invest, employ and transact in the UK.”

The report says after Brexit it will be the responsibility of the UK parliament to enact laws in areas that are currently within the competency of the EU and this opportunity will require “some innovation” on the part of parliament. It urges that parliamentary processes to scrutinise new laws should be simplified and it also urges that the volume of legislation and regulation should be reduced. 

It’s kind of ironic that for all the domestic haggling and wrangling on Brexit, we risk forgetting that internationally, Britain is the place people think of as the place they would most like to come to resolve their disputes. That is a unique comparative advantage for us.” 

Raab went on: “As we seek to minimise legal risk please let’s not cower in a corner afraid of our shadow — Britain is better than that,” adding there were opportunities for post-Brexit Britain to build on its reputation as a centre for ‘legal expertise’. He sees the UK as a haven for businesses who want  a more ‘relaxed’ legal system, presumably, than elsewhere.

Despite his support for a full break with the European Union, in Raab’s constituency, Esher and Walton, citizens voted 58.4 percent to 41.6 percent to remain. He doesn’t like worker’s rights (most Tories don’t, they get in the way of exploitation and profiteering). Raab has links to an extended network of individuals and organisations pushing deregulation and climate science denial. In 2012, he wrote a piece for the Taxpayers’ Alliance demanding the government be transparent about the cost of its climate policies. 

Raab has voted against allowing a right to remain for EU nationals already in living in the UK after Brexit. He has also campaigned to change the UK’s Human Rights Act.

He was also a part of the Leave Means Leave campaign, despite his name being removed from the site recently, which was also supported by some of the UK’s most prominent climate science deniers such as former Tory MP and now Lord Peter Lilley, and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson. It was also supported by libertarian Tories calling for deregulations which have previously pushed disinformation on climate change including Jacob Rees-Mogg John Redwood, Christopher Chope and Ian Paisley to name a few. The Labour Party and Trade Unions have expressed concerns about his appointment, as Raab has also advocated scaling the minimum wage back.

Rabb is a co-author of the hard-right ‘Britannia Unchained‘ manifesto in 2012, along with Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore and Liz Truss, who collectively claimed that British workers ‘prefer a lie-in to hard work’ and that British people ‘are amongst the worst idlers in the world’.

Raab is also a keen advocate and supporter of the notorious libertarian Taxpayers’ Alliance, who bleat that rich people have to pay a little back to the society they gained so much from. Back in 2011, Raab proposed, in a pamphlet published by the Centre for Policy Studies entitled ‘Escaping the Strait Jacket’, that should the UK leave the EU this should be seen as an opportunity to slash protections for workers.

Referring to David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, at the time, Raab wrote: “This opportunity should be seized, and used to remove some of the obstacles to British business.” 

Paul Blomfield, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister, said: “The new Brexit Secretary has long harboured ambitions to slash vital workplace protections and rights, and the Prime Minister has now put him in a position to do so.

“This latest blow for workers comes a few days after the Cabinet failed to rule out a race to the bottom with the EU on crucial employment protection. It’s become abundantly clear once again that this chaotic Tory Government cannot be trusted with people’s rights after Brexit.”

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary said: “This appointment signals a promotion of a hard right figurehead who has shown contempt for working people in Britain.

“Theresa May has appointed someone who think British workers are lazy and have too many rights and he has already published plans to slash vital rights from the minimum wage to rights for agency workers.

“The hard won rights of UK workers are already under serious threat in the post-Brexit landscape – basic things like not being forced to work 60 hours a week and being able to get home to see your family.

“Dominic Raab’s appointment now poses a direct and immediate threat to working people in Britain.

At a time when we see a Tory back bencher salivating at the prospect of axing the Working Time Directive, the new Brexit Minister needs be clear where he stands on workers’ rights – the public will not accept a Brexit that makes life harder for working people.”

As a campaigning anti-unionist, Raab had also presented an ultimately unsuccessful Ten Minute Rule Bill proposing that emergency service and transport Unions should be required by law to ensure that strike votes receive 50% support of union members. Raab argued that reform was needed to prevent “militant union bosses” holding the “hard working majority” to ransom.

I guess he doesn’t get the whole idea of ‘collective bargaining’, then, unless of course, it involves big business gathering together to lobby the government for labour market deregulation and bigger profits.

In February this year, Raab advertised for an unpaid intern just ahead of a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy publication, responding to the Taylor review on insecure work. The BEIS report criticised “exploitative unpaid internships” saying “an employer cannot avoid paying someone the minimum wage simply by calling them an ‘intern’ or saying that they are doing an internship.” 

Earlier in the year while he was serving as Housing Minister, Raab courted controversy by claiming that immigration to the United Kingdom had driven up housing prices by as much as 20 percent. Raab’s claims were then challenged by the UK Statistics Authority which asked that he publish the information supporting his allegation. When produced, it transpired that the information he cited was based on modelling long-since considered discredited and out of date, leading to criticism of his performance in his ministerial role. 

In 2015, he voted against explicitly requiring an environmental permit for fracking activities and voted not to ban the exploitation of unconventional petroleum for at least 18 months and not to require a review of the impact of such exploitation on climate change.

In 2011, the self-pitying, privileged white male waged a gender war on feminists, calling them “amongst the most obnoxious bigots”. He said he feels that men get a raw deal ‘from the cradle to the grave’ because of  “anti-male discrimination in rights of maternity/paternity leave”, young boys being “educationally disadvantaged compared to girls”, and because “divorced or separated fathers are systematically ignored by the courts”. Raab clains: “Men work longer hours, die earlier, but retire later than women”.  I guess child-rearing and being burdened with a disproportionate share of household chores, which isn’t salaried, don’t count as ‘work’. 

 

Related

Brexit, law firms, PR, lobbying and the communication ‘dark arts’ political hires


 

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The interdependence of the PR industry and neoliberal Conservative governments

The PR industry arose to promote and protect private interests in neoliberal economies

Public Relations (PR) and propaganda are key mechanisms by which power and influence are won (and lost). PR consultancies are also behind significant victories on behalf of big business, resulting in a tilted, biased market. PR emerged as a distinct discipline as a result of threats to the interests of business and government along with a ‘promotional culture’. 

Evidence indicates that PR arose rapidly in tandem with neoliberal policies. Those countries with the most marked privatisation and deregulation from the 1980s onwards – the US, the UK and Japan – had the largest PR industries. By contrast, countries such as France and Germany, which retained significant elements of consensus-based policies and state investment in industry, have much smaller PR industries. The global PR industry is dominated by a few big players, most of which are US or UK in origin and
ownership. 

Relative size of PR agencies in Europe, the US and Japan:

PR US Japan Eu

The expansion and power of Trans National Corporations (TNCs) relative to nation states has been a key spur to the development of communications conglomerates, which provide a full range of ‘promotional’ services and aspire to a global reach.  TNCs’ influence over the policy making process by entering an international market place has also led to a globalising of  the PR industry.

Multinational corporations, particularly in the US, and increasingly in the UK, look for global PR agencies who can operate adaptably and locally, wherever they are needed. 

The consensus in British politics was based on a compromise between organised labour and capital, which was founded on the post war 1945 settlement. This did secure real and significant democratic advances for ordinary citizens in the shape of the NHS, the welfare state, universal education, significant public ownership of utilities and heavy industry and, partly as a result, some amelioration of inequality in wealth distribution.

The end of the consensus in British politics during the New Right era ushered in more competitive politics in which traditions were displaced by a neoliberal tilt to the market in government policy. The crisis of the consensus shifted decisively with the 1979 election of Margaret Thatcher’s government which favoured the role and ‘right’ of employers to ‘manage’, with government rolling back state mediation.  

During the Thatcher era, changes in the communication strategies of the nationalised industries were crucial to the changed relationships between management and workers.  Controversial government actions and policies also led to a vast increase in PR spending by governments and by corporations in their attempts to influence government policy.

Fundamental to this is the relationship between PR, lobbying, and neoliberalism, (particularly the privatisation of national assets and the deregulation of business and service provision in state institutions). There are several parts to this relationship which are interrelated and in some respects, mutually reinforcing. These include:

Lobbying and preparation for deregulation,
• Spending on privatisation by government/nationalised industries,
• Spending by newly privatised companies,
• Spending on promotion by industries and professions following
deregulation,
• Increased spending on PR in the new business climate created by the
deregulation of the City. 

Conservative policies could not work without the PR industry and the PR industry would not have developed in the spectacular way it did without consecutive Conservative governments. The British privatisations of the 1980s were instrumental in the rapid  expansion of the PR industry. Once industries are privatised, PR, corporate identity consultants and advertising are needed to promote the private interests of the companies and as a part of their strategic armoury to create positive public images of them. By the 1990s, accountancy firms also routinely employed lobbying firms.

Lobbying increased deregulation which increased PR spending by encouraging financial institutions to market themselves, and by ‘selling’ the marketing. Nowadays there are no matters for business, government or private interest pressure groups that have not been first addressed by promotional professionals, which has made, in turn, further contribution to shaping economic-political life and profoundly reduced the quality of our democracy. 

PR consultancy and neoliberal ideology are intimately connected, the role of PR has facilitated an institutional corruption in British governance.

The rise of political branding and marketing, where the primary development involves the way political candidates, parties, government, lobbyists and groups have borrowed communication techniques from the private sector in the attempt to achieve
strategic objectives like gaining votes, driving public opinion or influencing legislation, is generally regarded to be an Americanisation of campaigning in the UK.

However, the identifiable practices like negative advertising, personalised politics, and high pre-election campaign expenditures are generally more about maintaining a neoliberal status quo, and these methods are a ‘whatever it takes’ approach that are subsequently exported in a pre-packaged box of persuasion techniques to other countries. Political identities are being constructed rather than given, policies are presented on showroom dummies, dressed up in techniques of persuasion. Yet there is evidence to suggest that overexposure to this kind of window dressing and made over political coverage has contributed towards widespread political alienation.

Image result for pr and democracy

The rise of political marketing with its techniques of ‘spin’, selling and persuasion may have somewhat undermined the credibility of political leaders and institutions,  with the elevation of style over content and image over substance, along with a concomitant  ‘brand and package’ pack mentality political journalism, ultimately leading to hardened public cynicism. We are after all, inhabiting a world dominated by PR operations that leave little place for objective reporting. Every message that the public receives is “sponsored” by someone trying to sell us something – be it a product, a service, a candidate, a government or a legislative act.

The content of the messages is calculated to generate superficial and shallow emotive responses rather than inspiring deliberative, rational and critical thinking. 

It wouldn’t be such a stretch to imagine that, in addition to the reductionist and glib sloganisation of politics, the normalised use of  emotive, negative and ‘attack’ Conservative political advertising may in fact demobilise the electorate, too.

The Conservatives in the ‘war room’ – a case study

The UK Policy Group is the UK branch of a notorious US political organisation – Definers Public Affairs – which has worked for Donald Trump’s administration and has aggressively targeted his critics. The company boasts: “What sets us apart is our focus on political-style research, war room media monitoring, political due diligence and rapid response communications.

“We help our clients navigate public affairs challenges, influence media narratives and make informed decisions to disrupt crowded markets.

“The global political, policy and corporate communications landscapes are evolving rapidly. Decision makers need high quality research to make informed decisions and need relevant content to drive the court of public opinion and provide context to shape decisions by policymakers.

“With affiliates in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley, UK Policy Group employs some of the best communicators, researchers and media analysts as part of our team.”

The Conservatives have outsourced their “research” to the UK Policy Group, privatising their dirt digging and smear campaigns. 

US lobbying firm Definers Public Affairs was founded by Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign manager, Matt Rhoades and former Republican National Committee research director Joe Pounder. Rhoades and Pounder are also directors of UK Policy Group.

Definers made headlines in December 2017 when it was paid US$120,000 in a no-bid contract by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to build up dossiers of compromising information on “resistance figures”, opposed to the policy agenda of Scott Pruitt, and Donald Trump, the man who appointed him. Definers cancelled the contract in short order after its activities were exposed. 

UK Policy Group was originally called, and registered with Companies House as, ‘UK Rising’. Rhoades and Pounder are co-founders of America Rising, a political action committee (PAC), that specialises in helping [Republican] party candidates and Conservative groups find damaging information on political rivals. Both companies “craft convincing narratives and focused messaging”.

The expansion by Definers Public Affairs came at a time when US lobbying firms were eyeing UK expansion in anticipation of flood of Brexit-related work.

UK Policy Group’s website unambiguously states it works for ‘corporate clients’, however, not a single one of those running the company has a significant private sector background. In fact, each of the five individuals standing alongside Pounder and Rhoades is intimately connected with the Conservative Party.

Former government officials are advising this highly controversial company. The UK company’s vice president is Andrew Goodfellow, who was the Conservative Party’s director of policy and research. He specialised in ‘opposition’ research.

James Caldecourt was previously a Political Adviser in the Conservative Research Department, also specialising in ‘opposition’ research, and was part of George Osborne’s team while he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer 2010 — 2015. He has worked on several national election and referendum campaigns in political, policy and operational roles. Louis McMahon worked for two tears for two Conservative government ministers, and previously co-authored a criminal justice report for the Center for Social Justice think tank, founded by Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith MP in 2004.

Ameet Gill, who was the former director of strategy Number 10 and founder of lobbying company Hanbury Strategy, is providing consultancy to the firm. Official documents reveal that David Cameron ’s former director of strategy, Gill, was given permission by parliamentary authorities to accept a contract advising the firm through his political strategy company Hanbury Strategy. Pelham Groom, a company director, was previously head of ‘media monitoring’ for the Conservative Party. Chris Brannigan, Theresa May’s former Director of Government Relations is also a member of the group’s advisory board. Rhiannon Glover is an analyst, formerly, the late duty press officer for the Conservative Party and researcher in the office of Nick Hurd.

The company is also partnered with Trygve Olson, of Viking Strategies, who advised the European People’s Party in the 2009 EU elections and worked as a consultant to the Republican Party in the US.

The company says: “We offer our clients an end-to-end system of research on issues and opponents, monitoring the news cycles, and shaping narratives via rapid rebuttal communications.

UKPG provides our clients with unparalleled campaign-style research as the foundation of driving informed decisions that allow them to shape public opinion, and impact outcomes.”

The company employs people to find damaging information on political rivals. Scrutinising the personal histories, online videos and posts of Labour Party candidates, the company collects dossiers of potential discrediting and smear material to be handed to the Conservative Party. It’s understood that the information is then handed to right-wing websites and newspapers to construct narratives and add a veneer of evidence to negative articles.

The company expansion by US-based company Definers Public Affairs came at a time when US lobbying firms were eyeing UK expansion “in anticipation of flood of Brexit-related work, using their capacity to influence the national news cycle’ and as a ‘master of opposition research”. 

Ian Lavery MP, Labour Party Chair, said: “I am disappointed but not surprised to hear that in an attempt to deflect from their total lack of direction and policy, the Tories are reduced to digging low and dragging British politics through the gutter, in the desperate hope that they may find some salacious morsel.

“This kind of base mudslinging has no place in British democratic debate, and deflects from the real issues facing people today. It is time that Theresa May stops spending money and effort on these tactics and focuses on policies to improve the lives of those who have suffered because of her government’s heartless policies.”

It may be argued that there are communications requirements of modern democracies. However, a representative democracy requires that political communication is dialogic – it flows in both directions between government and people. In fact that is a prerequisite. Instead we witness a manipulative neoliberal monologue from the current administration.

Neoliberal Conservative governments and the PR industry are very closely aligned, each profiting from the other. The condition of the spectacular growth of the PR and lobbying  industry was to facilitate and profit from the marked redistribution of wealth from the poorest citizens to the rich, establishing, elevating and securing the prioritisation of the private interests and power base of the 1% over and above – and at the expense of – public interests.

Image result for pr and democracy chomsky

 


 

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Grenfell, inequality and the Conservatives’ bonfire of red tape

Residents were trapped "screaming for their lives" as flames raged through a 27-storey tower block in Notting Hill in the early hours today

The Grenfell Tower fire reflects a colossal betrayal of working class people’s trust by the state. The Conservatives have emphasised “economic growth” at the expense of citizen’s welfare in their policies since taking office in 2010. This is a government that has rewarded the propertied class and punished the renting class (by inflicting policies such as the bedroom tax, and the welfare cap, for example). It’s a government that values and supports profiteering landlords, who have lobbied against essential safeguarding regulation, and one that has also imposed massive local authority budget cuts. 

It’s estimated that there are more than 700 tower blocks in London. These range from the brand new luxury apartments to the post-war council-owned buildings which were seen as a convenient cure to problems caused by the crumbling and unsanitary 19th Century slums.

Around 8% of Londoners now live in tower blocks. Some of the flats are bought for millions; others are relatively low-cost social housing, rented from a local council at a fraction of the private rate. Grenfell Tower itself was designed in 1967, building started in 1972 and finished in 1974.

Originally built as municipal housing as part of the slum clearances of the 1960s, it had 120 one and two-bedroom flats over 20 of its 24 storeys, and was renovated in 2016.

Grenfell House is in a neighbourhood ranked among the most deprived 10% in England.

The BBC’s Bethan Bell says

“Just two miles away – or four stops along the Circle/Hammersmith and City line – is 3 Merchant Square, a 21-storey tower that is part of a new development around Paddington Basin. The contemporary block was finished in 2016 and holds 60 apartments over 15 storeys.

It’s a different world. The penthouse apartment was sold for £7.5m. One-bedroom flats are at least £1m.

Surrounded by restaurants and bars, workers and residents can lounge on deckchairs on a newly-built floating park. Lunchtime yoga sessions are held and there’s a luxury fitness club.

There’s an enormous fountain and a bridge created by renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick, a nursery and winter garden.

But nice though these peripheries undoubtedly are, they don’t keep people safe from fire. For that, we must have a look at the specifications of the apartments in the tower. 

Once you get past the sales brochure description of 3 Merchant Square’s walnut cutlery drawer inserts and integral wine coolers, the adjustable mood lighting and heated bathroom walls, you come to the fire safety details: Every flat has not only ceiling mounted smoke detectors but sprinklers.

The International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA) says that automatic fire sprinkler systems are the single most effective fire protection measure available, and are able to make up for a wide range of other fire protection deficiencies.

There has never been a multiple loss of life from a fire developing in a building protected by a properly designed, installed and maintained fire sprinkler system. While fire sprinkler systems have been required in new high-rise residential buildings in England since 2007, it is not compulsory to retrofit them into existing buildings. So Grenfell Tower had none.”

It’s a tale of two cities.

The former chief fire officer Ronnie King, honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue – which had recommended fitting sprinklers to buildings to save lives – has said the regulations “badly need updating” and “three successive ministers have not done it”.

“My own thinking is there was the red tape challenge and they don’t really want to put regulation on to businesses, adding a burden.

“It’s one of those that if you bring in a new regulation, you have got to give three up to get it.” 

This echoes my own comments yesterday

In 2012, David Cameron vowed to “cut back on the health and safety legislation “monster”, and to “kill off the health and safety culture for good.” The Conservatives’ Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.” The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”: 

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job. 

Among others.  

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.” I don’t see any balanced democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak. 

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks companies to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building. 

This “builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament.” It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public. Conservative ideology prioritises private profit over human needs. New Right neoliberalism is all about privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and a “small state” commitment entailing reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.

The problem is that the government regards regulations as an inconvenience – as raising unnecessary obstacles to free market economics – business, growth, competition and “innovation”, while disregarding the fact that regulations actually serve important social objectives. 

The Conservatives have long argued that “red tape” impedes freedom and “damages productivity”. They have glibly assured us that the UK would be a better place with a lot of deregulation and fewer bureacratic “barriers” to business. The 2010-15 Tory Health and Safety “reforms” (that word is always a Conservative euphemism for cuts) have been motivated, for example, by a belief that: “good health and safety is important, but the burden of excessive health and safety rules and regulations on business had become too great and a damaging compensation culture was stifling innovation and growth. We want to protect people in the workplace while reducing the burden of unnecessary health and safety rules and regulations on businesses.”

The “red tape” that the Conservatives regard with such disdain consists of laws that provide essential public protections and rights that prioritise citizen’s lives. The freedoms being protected by this government are those of the rich to exploit the poor, of corporations to exploit employees and the public, of landlords to exploit their tenants and, to nick a sentence from George Monbiot, of industry to use the planet as its dustbin.

2012 report by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) concluded that fire sprinklers could be retrofitted with tenants in place at a cost of about £1,150 a flat. Since the 24-storey Grenfell Tower contained 120 flats, it would have worked out at £138,000. That’s significantly less than the £2.6m spent on the cosmetic cladding and replacement windows

Architect and fire expert Sam Webb said: “We are still wrapping post-war high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down.

I really don’t think the building industry understands how fire behaves in buildings and how dangerous it can be. The government’s mania for deregulation means our current safety standards just aren’t good enough.”

Some of these issues were raised in a report following a fatal fire at a tower block in 2009 in Camberwell, in which six people were killed.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, said his predecessor in the role had accepted the report’s recommendations and put them into action.

He said: “The coroner did not recommend new planning regulations. The coroner recommended a change in the guidance. There is a lot of information out there and it is right that it is independently looked at by a judge-led inquiry.” 

When asked whether the government would retrofit sprinkler systems to tower blocks, he said: “I don’t think we can immediately jump to the conclusion that sprinklers is the issue here. We will do whatever it takes.”

An associate pastor of Notting Hill Community Church, Danny Vance, says “the poor are constantly neglected” in the city.

He said: “The disparity between rich and poor in this city is disgusting. This would not have happened to the £5m flats around the corner” [from the Grenfell tower].

Theresa May has announced a £5 million emergency fund for the survivors of the Grenfell inferno, amid angry protests over the government’s lack of appropriate reaction to the tragedy, and what survivors see as the slow emergence of information with regard to loved ones and friends who are still missing.

It’s worth considering that the Conservatives consistently spend close to the £19m general election spending limit on their campaigns. In comparison with the funding offered to people and their families who have lost loved ones and friends, their homes, and all of their belongings, it highlights a problem with our democracy. It is one of political priority. Much more money is spent by the Conservatives on staying in power than it is on pressing social need, reflecting the somewhat corrupt priorities of this government. 

The Labour party have said that the £5 million isn’t enough. It really isn’t. 

Grenfell Tower stands as a dreadful symbol of the failings of austerity for which the Conservatives are culpable. It’s an emblem of the intentional Conservative attacks on our poorer citizens. Tory MPs have sneeringly  rejected housing regulation; they implemented cuts to councils responsible for retro-fitting fire suppressants; they disregarded the coroner’s instructions after the 2009 Lakanal House tragedy; and plan to opt out of EU safety regulations. Conservative Kensington and Chelsea council have regularly blocked its ears to tenants’ well-founded anxieties

For many, the blackened husk of Grenfell Tower is a terrible and tragic monument to inequality. It stands as an awful accusation. It should not be the case that society’s most disadvantaged citizens suffer most from the mistakes of the powerful. The state should protect and value citizens’ lives – each life has equal worth, it is equally precious – and not remain indifferent to people who complain that their home is potentially a death trap, neglecting their fundamental concerns and needs. We live in a society where our government values property rights over more fundamental human rights. It’s a democracy for property-owners, but not for tenants.

Danny Dorling has highlighted that black and minority ethnic people in social housing are disproportionately housed in flats, to the extent that most black children in London and Birmingham are housed above the sixth floor. This is not to do with a shortage of housing, but is a reflection of the fact that not only are ethnic minorities more likely to be working-class by wage and occupation, but they experience discrimination – tacitly or blatantly – when allocated housing. Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs are absolutely right to call for the use of empty homes in Kensington to rehouse locally those made homeless, and experiencing such devastating losses, by the fire. 

We live in a society where it’s become normal and somehow acceptable that the privileged class can buy their safety, their security, rights and their legal representation, while many working class people and those citizens who are vulnerable have none of these. 

Grenfell Tower is a charred and bitter testament to how our poorest citizens are placed at risk because we live in a society that values unfettered private profiteering, no matter what the cost to ordinary people, and the superficial and appearance over what really matters – people’s lives. The deadly cladding was added as cheaply as possible to improve the view for others, while the sprinklers, working alarm and fire extinguishers that would have saved lives were omitted. 

Emergency services personnel on top of Grenfell Tower in west London after the fire 
Related

Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state’

The Conservatives are forced to end austerity because they face a turning tide and electoral extinction

London protests as they happened: Demonstrators demand justice for Grenfell victims after day of fury and sorrow

 


 

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Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state’


Hayley Dixon write in the Telegraph today: “A litany of failings in building regulation and safety rules have left residents in tower blocks vulnerable for decades. Despite constant warnings from fire experts, nothing was done to improve fire-proofing standards, or even review the current situation.” They present eight times that the victims of Grenfell Tower were let down.” 

These were:

Until 1986 all buildings in London fell under the London Building Acts which ensured that external walls must have at least one hour of fire resistance to prevent flames from spreading between flats or entering inside.

But under Margaret Thatcher’s government, those rules were replaced by the National Buildings Regulations and the crucial time stipulation was scrapped.

Instead, materials used on the outside of buildings now only had to meet ‘Class O’ regulations and show that they did not add to the heat or intensity of a fire. But crucially they did not have to be non-combustible. For the past three decades fire safety experts have warned that the ‘Class O’ designation was based on small-scale tests conducted in laboratory conditions and did not properly evaluate cladding in a live fire. A recent London Fire Brigade investigation into the fire at a tower block fire at Shepherd Court in West London in August 2016 found that external cladding had helped the fire to spread.

They found that when exposed to high flames the metal sheet of the cladding had melted away, setting the inner polystyrene foam on fire and allowing ‘flaming droplets’ to fall onto lower floors while helping flames to spread higher up. Fire chiefs wrote to every council in London to warn them of the dangers but no action was taken.

Dangerous cladding

A leading fire safety expert warned Government advisors three years ago that a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower inferno would happen unless they changed rules to ban cheap, flammable insulation used on the outside of buildings.

Arnold Turling said the Grenfell blaze was “entirely avoidable” and that a gap between the panels acted as a ‘wind tunnel’, fanning the flames, and allowing the fire to spread to upper levels.

Turling, a member of the Association of Specialist Fire Protection, said: “Any burning material falls down the gaps and the fire spreads up very rapidly – it acts as its own chimney.”

White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower
White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower CREDIT: EPA

Three years ago Tarling, a chartered surveyor, addressed the British Standards Institute’s seventh annual fire conference in London, at which government fire safety advisor Brian Martin was present.

“I said we will have this type of cladding fire in this country and it will lead to large numbers of deaths,” he said.

It emerged last night that the United States had banned the type of cladding thought to have been used on Grenfell Tower. 

The material used on Grenfell Tower was sold under the brand Reynobond which comes in three different varieties: one with a flammable plastic core and two with fire-resistant cores and the cheaper, more combustible, version was banned in the United States in buildings taller than 40 feet. 

It is thought that Grenfell’s exterior cladding, added in 2015, had a polyethylene – or plastic – core but conforms to UK standards.

Reynobond’s fire-resistant panel sells for £24 per square metre; £2 more expensive than the standard version.

Following the Shepherd Court fire, insurer RSA wrote a report warning that flammable material in insulation panels “melts and ignites relatively easily”, and can cause “extremely rapid fire spread and the release of large volumes of toxic smoke”.

They concluded: “This allows extensive and violent fire to spread, and makes fire fighting almost impossible.”

Architect and fire safety expert Sam Webb said there was a “conflict” between fire safety and the materials that are used to make buildings more energy efficient.

However Harley Curtain Wall Ltd said that it had installed cladding, with polyisocyanurate inside, a material which is “better than most at resisting fire in tests.”

No government review  

After six people died in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group called for a major government review of building regulations. Sucessive ministers since 2013 have said they are still looking at it.

They argued that 4,000 tower blocks across London were at risk because of a lack of fire risk assessments, and panels on the outside walls not providing the necessary fire resistance.

The coroner on the Lakanal House inquest also recommended the government simplify regulations relating to fire safety so they were easier for landlords to understand.

Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London
Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London. CREDIT: GETTY

In 2013, then communities secretary Eric Pickles responded to the coroner’s recommendations and promised a review with an updated version of building regulations published in 2016/17.

However, four years on and no review has been completed despite assurances from former housing minister Gavin Barwell, who is now Theresa May’s chief of staff.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the work is “ongoing” and would not give a date for when the updated regulations will be published.

A single staircase

Residents in Grenfell Tower made repeated warnings that a single staircase was their only means of escaping the building.

Despite safety concerns of experts, tower blocks in Britain still only have to have one staircase, leaving Britain out of step with other countries in the world.

Russ Timpson, of the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Network, said his “foreign colleagues are staggered” that there is no requirement for a second staircase as he called on the Government to look again at fire safety regulations.

Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower
Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: EPA

Residents fleeing in Tuesday night’s blaze complained that stairways were blocked, full of smoke and had no sprinkler systems fitted. Firefighters also struggled to get to the upper levels.

Ronnie King, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group, said: “The staircase should have been protected route for firefighters and people escaping but it was clear that it wasn’t.”

The flats had recently been refitted and fire experts warned that gaps in the walls where new pipes were installed could have allowed flames and smoke to spread quickly through the communal areas.

Missing sprinklers

There was no central sprinkler system at Glenfell which members of the Fire Protection Association said would have “undoubtedly” saved lives.

MPs from All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group also said that MPs had been calling for sprinklers to be fitted on the outside of tall buildings for years, but said their calls have been ignored.

Currently, sprinklers only need to be fitted up to 30 metres, but in tall buildings like Grenfell it is impossible for fire hoses to reach the upper heights, leaving the top floors without any protection.

An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower
An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: AFP

The Fire Protection Association said more sprinklers would “undoubtedly” have saved lives.

 

“Whether they’d have stopped that fire spreading at the speed it did up the outside of that building is another matter,” Jon O’Neill of the FPA said.

“But to have had sprinklers in that building would have created an environment where it would have been easier to rescue people and increase survivability.”

However in 2014 housing minister Brandon Lewis stopped short of forcing building developers to fit sprinklers, over fears it could discourage house building.

He said at Westminster Hall Debate: “The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building – something we want to encourage.”

Missing fire doors

London Fire Brigade said claims that doors were not fire-proofed would form part of its ongoing inquiry.

Two separate sources have told The Telegraph that not all the front doors in the tower block were fire-proofed. Official fire brigade advice to stay put in the event of a fire is based on fire doors offering protection to residents told not to leave the building.

Fire doors are designed to stop the fire spreading rapidly through the building rather than being “compartmentalised”.

A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower
A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: GETTY

Regulations state that all tower blocks being built must have fire doors on the flat, the stairwell and the riser doors, which give access to the pipes.

 

Building regulations are not retrospective, so cannot force the installation of modern equipment on old buildings.

However, Richard Brownlee, Managing Director of Surrey Fire and Safety Ltd, said that it would be expected that fire doors were installed as part of any refurbishment and installation would be recommended as part of any refurbishment.

Inspections

According to information released by Kensington and Chelsea Council under the Freedom of Information Act, the last time that Grenfell Tower was subject to a full Fire Risk Assessment was December 2015.

There is a requirement for every building to have regular fire risk assessments, but the amended regulations do not specify how frequently this should take place. Industry experts say that best practice is every 12 months.

It is also a requirement to have a fire risk assessment carried out if there is a “material change” to the building. The regulations do not specify how soon that inspection must take place.

The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted 'material change' 
The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted ‘material change’.  CREDIT: JULIAN SIMMONDS

The refurbishment to Grenfell Tower was completed in May 2016 and yet it does not appear that any safety checks were carried out, even though the new cladding work consisted of ‘material change.’  

Firebreaks

Fires on outside of cladded buildings should have been controlled by firebreaks – gaps in the external envelope to prevent the continual burning of material. Under Building Regulations 1991, developers are warned that they must install systems to prevent flames from leaping from floor to floor. 

However the Fire Brigades Union and the Loss Prevention Council and the Buildings Research Establishment have frequently warned more recently that guidance is not adequate in the event of a fire. 

And fire safety experts said it was unlikely that firebreaks would have stopped the conflagration at Grenfell. 

Dr Stuart Smith, a building surveying and fire safety lecturer at Sheffield Hallam university, said: “The rate at which the building was burning suggests that even if the fire breaks were there, they didn’t work. 

“Once the fire had got into the cladding, the rate at which that burns, I’m not sure fire breaks would work anyway.” 

Jeremy Corbyn, who visited the community yesterday, to meet and speak with survivors and angry residents, said: “If you cut local authority expenditure then the price is paid somehow.” He was noting the failure to install a sprinkler system and to overhaul fire safety regulations. 

Residents say they sought to obtain legal advice over safety concerns but were prevented from doing so by cuts to legal aid. Other tower block residents, many of them among London’s poorest, have been anxiously contacting MPs for fear of a similar fate. 

Though fire crews were quick to arrive at the Kensington tower block (engines were there six minutes after being alerted), the effects of cuts were visible. “Put it this way, you’re meant to work on a fire for a maximum of four hours, we’ve been here for 12,” said one firefighter.

The Conservatives’ red tape bonfire

The Conservative’s Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.”  The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”:

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job.
  • Childcare providers now have to read 33 pages of need to know guidance instead of wading through over 1,100 pages.

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.”  I don’t see any benefit at all for citizens, or a democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak.

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks firms to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building.

This builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament. It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public.

The government is very “business friendly”, but when it comes to the public sector, the relationship is founded on a longstanding animosity.

Boris Johnson told a Labour opponent to “get stuffed”in 2013 when confronted over devastating fire service cuts.

Theresa May accused the Police Federation of “scaremongering” and “crying wolf”, when she was confronted over more cuts to the police. But the recognition and fear that emergency services can bear no further reductions is now becoming widespread.

And it’s also at last becoming very evident that those who have born the brunt of ideologically driven austerity cuts for the past 7 years, so that very wealthy people can pay less tax, are too often paying an unforgivable price for the savage cuts to our public emergency services, in one of the richest nations in the world.

 


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Labour MPs speak out against the TTIP and investigation opens into the impacts on environmental protections

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The impact of the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal on environmental protections in Europe is to be investigated by parliament. Opposition MPs will examine if the agreement could weaken regulations on chemical and pesticide use, oil and gas extraction and genetically modified food.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a planned free trade agreement between the European Union and the US. Those who support it claim that it will “boost” economies. However there have been many concerns raised regarding this agreement. Critics say that not only have the economic benefits of TTIP have been overstated, it will additionally put downward pressure on regulation in sectors such as health and the environment and poses a significant threat to national democratic decision-making.

Worryingly, moves by a future democratically elected government to put the deregulation process into reverse and bring our public services – including our NHS, railways, water, energy and other utilities – back into public ownership would be confronted by an international court system (ISDS) where lawyers will judge what is or is not a barrier to “free trade”. And it will be carried out behind closed doors. Corporates can go on to sue nation states that stand in the way of “free trade” and threats to future as well as actual losses to profits.

In August 2014, Labour MP Katy Clark urged David Cameron to stop the EU-US trade pact from opening more public services to the private sector.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which has remained under negotiation behind closed doors, “would let companies sue if national governments pass laws that hurt profits,” Ms Clark warned.

This is bad news for our existing public services such as the NHS, or other services that we may wish to take back into public ownership such as the railways.

“Private companies already run certain services but under the new plans the government would never be allowed to run these again, as doing so would hurt the profits of the companies involved.”

Since discussions on the content of the Treaty have remained secret, its exact content is unknown, (including to the Labour Party) but private firms on both sides of the Atlantic are keen to use competition rules to force open what remains of the public sector.

During a parliamentary debate in February, secured by back bench Labour MP John Healy, Labour MPs, including Katy Clark, raised many concerns about the TTIP.  Jeremy Corbyn said: “Why is there such secrecy surrounding the negotiations? Why are not all the documents on the table? Why are the demands made on European public services by the American negotiators not made public? Why are not the demands made in the other direction also made public? I suspect that, if the agreement ever comes to fruition, every Parliament in Europe and the US system will be presented with a fait accompli: they will be told that they have to accept it.”

Ian Lavery  commented: “A number of people have said that there must be a good business case for the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. I think that we need much more than a good business case. I am concerned that there are huge inherent dangers in the TTIP for many working people and for public services in the UK. My major concern is that the trade agreement has the potential to dilute workers’ rights.”

Katy Clark, the North Ayrshire and Arran MP, wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to protect public services and pointed out that France won the right to continue supporting its film industry and that the US had blocked any deal on its finance sector.

She said: “If the leaders of these countries can protect what’s important to them, then David Cameron can do the same for Britain.”

Neil Clark from the Campaign for Public Ownership, said the Labour MP’s warning was timely as people had “still not woken up to the consequences of TTIP.”

“It is fundamentally undemocratic, since though large majorities of the public are in favour of renationalising key services such as the railways or energy, subsequent governments would be unable to do so without breaking the terms of the pact.

“But it would impose privatisation forever and must be stopped in its tracks.”

Angela Eagle said: “I know that following widespread public concern, the European Commission halted negotiations on the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) section of TTIP pending the outcome of a public consultation. I appreciate that there are serious concerns about the potential impact of the ISDS provisions and I hope that the European Commission will consider the responses to this consultation carefully.”

In November last year, Labour MP Clive Efford, with the backing of the party’s leadership, called for the exemption of the NHS from the trade deal. It was a victory for the Private Member’s Bill to repeal the Tory privatisation of the NHS and Exempt the NHS from the TTIP Agreement. Mr Efford said: “The Bill will not save the NHS overnight – only the election of a Labour government can do that. But it does give all MPs the opportunity to accept that the 2012 Act has been a disaster and to begin to create an NHS which puts patient care at the centre of all it does, not private profit.”

Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, claimed that signing TTIP could jeopardise the founding principles of the health service. The many critics of this trade agreement fear that the deal would leave the NHS vulnerable to takeover by American healthcare giants and undermine the principle of a service free at the point of delivery.

Joan Walley MP, chair of the Commons Select Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which launched its inquiry on 8th January, said: “We will be investigating whether it really is possible to sign such a deal and at the same time safeguard European environmental standards, as negotiators have claimed.

Greater transatlantic trade and investment could be beneficial for Britain, but we must monitor these talks carefully to ensure they are not trading-in the rules that keep our food and environment safe.”

A recent report from the Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel) argues that the European chemical industry wants the US system of chemical risk assessment to be adopted, which the group says would allow the use of over 80 pesticides currently banned in the EU. Other campaigners say US biotech companies want to use TTIP to open EU borders to imports of genetically modified food.

Samuel Lowe, from Friends of the Earth, said: “With the potential for essential environmental and food standards to be discarded as ‘trade irritants’, the TTIP presents a unique challenge to the health of our environment. The EAC should scrutinise the proposals and ensure that these serious concerns are no longer brushed under the carpet.”

Absolutely. Labour has said very clearly that they won’t back this Treaty unless the NHS and other key public services are excluded. The crucial inquiry, which Labour MPs have called for is welcome. It`will focus on the potential environmental impacts in the UK of TTIP, including through changes to regulations and product standards and the operation of an “inter-state dispute settlement” regime; and on the potential effects on developing countries. Gathering evidence is an essential when it comes to the process of agreeing, formulating or rejecting policies

 

Further reading:

The coming Corporatocracy and the death of democracy

Just what will TTIP mean for our jobs, environment, consumer rights – and publicly provided health service?

Lord Howe said we couldn’t exempt the NHS because it would place our pharmaceutical companies at a disadvantage.

If we don’t do something about the TTIP it may be all of us who will be at a disadvantage.

And one thing which is clear is that the TTIP will open up the NHS to American private health companies.”

There are some things we just can’t afford to risk – and the NHS is one of them.
Andy Burnham has already been to Brussels to discuss NHS exemptions.
Labour is committed to them.

“The report – on the workings of NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – which has been around for 20 years suggests we may need to go further – and we certainly need far more open discussion of what’s at stake.

This is something the LibDem/Tory Coalition seem very reluctant to have.
Could the pattern of funding of the Tory party have anything to do with that?

We merely ask.” – TTIP/ EU-US Trade Agreement – you can’t trust the LibDem/Tory Coalition with the NHS Alex Sobel MP

 

Pictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone