Housing Regulation 408

There are two separate but linked questions arising from the terrible disaster at Ladbroke Grove. One is the efficacy of national building regulations on fire and safety. It is plainly true that, if Grenfell Tower met them, they are inadequate. The second is how Kensington and Chelsea Council in particular manage their housing.

To look at the second question, I do agree with David Lammy that there is potential criminal culpability here, but I am not quite sure that he is right to describe it as “corporate manslaughter”. It seems to me that responsibility rests more with government than with corporations (though I accept that the former is a tool of the latter).

One of the most retrograde developments of my lifetime has been the wholescale “outsourcing” of delivery of public services away from direct government provision. So rather than by council employees, your bins are probably emptied and your streets swept by a private company paid to do it. Just as your utilities are supplied, your trains run, civil servants get their stationery ordered, increasingly medical services are provided, international aid projects are administered, and literally thousands of other examples.

This development was driven by the ideological belief, often fanatically held, that people employed by government are less efficient than those employed by the private sector. That ideology also depended on a rejection of the very notion of altruism; which rejection of altruism was at the heart of Thatcherism. The idea that people are only motivated by personal gain is of course quite untrue. Firefighters, who are still employed by the public, have proved that just now, beyond anything I can say, by going well beyond their contractual duty to try to help. But even accepting for one moment, for the sake of argument, the doctrine that people are only motivated by money; it plainly does not follow that public services would be more efficiently delivered by the private sector. What does follow is that public services will suffer from profiteering if run by the private sector.

But this disastrous contracting out is not always to private for profit companies. It is sometimes to what Tories call the “third sector”, meaning charities and not for profit companies. Much of the aid budget is now spent this way. Not at all coincidental, the pumping of large amounts of public money into this sector has coincided with a quite incredible rise in the salaries and emoluments of senior charities staff.

We have ended up in the situation where executive staff of charities are on over £200,000 a year, where the chief executive of Save the Children gets twice the salary of the Head of DFID, and where people who occupy what were once public sector jobs in rail, water or housing can earn ten times what their public sector predecessors were getting. At the same time wages, employment protection, conditions and unionisation for the actual workers have all been cut.

This is important because the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation Ltd is a not for profit company. No shareholders get any profits from it, and it does not remunerate its directors. This is the body which manages Grenfell Towers and did the refurbishment. Some of the (rightly critical) comment has assumed that KCTMO Ltd is a profiteering private company and this is why it has skimped on possible safety features like sprinkler systems. But it is more complicated than that.

The majority of KCTMO directors, including the chairman, are themselves tenants of the council’s housing. Three more are council appointed. The philosophy behind KCTMO Ltd is on the face of it benign – the tenants are managing their own properties. Which leads to the question of why relationships had broken down so badly between KCTMO and those apparently speaking for the residents of Grenfell Tower, particularly over fire safety issues.

Some of the answer to that may relate to social hierarchy among different types of council tenant. I do not know if anyone on the KCTMO board lived in Grenfell Tower, but imagine we would have been told that if so.

My experience of other organisations would lead me to suspect that in practice KCTMO Ltd did not operate in the way that it does on paper, and that the Chief Executive and other officers had a disproportionate influence. I have seen enough decisions in enough public bodies with a supposedly democratic structure – including universities and councils – to know that the elected representatives often find it very difficult to challenge the “expertise” of the executive officers. This is particularly likely to be true in an area like housing, where there are architectural, construction and legal issues. You quickly end up in a situation where the elected representatives are not really making decisions but only rubber=stamping the decisions of the officers. I saw various tenants who had been involved in the complaints to KTCMO interviewed yesterday, and they all referenced the Chief Executive, Robert Black, and not the tenant representative Chairman.

KCTMO’s staff costs are just over £10 million per year. I can find nothing on wage structure and what the executive officers are paid. I hope that information will become available.

But I can see no reason to believe that Mr Black or anybody else could make any personal gain from not installing a sprinkler system, for example. It appears responsibility for providing funds for this kind of capital expenditure lies with Kensington and Chelsea Council and not with KCTMO. It happens I lived for three years in Shepherds Bush and know this area very well. Ladbroke Grove is 15 minutes walk from some of the most expensive houses in the world. The idea that people in social housing were not high on the priorities of the council rings to me entirely true. In fact there is plenty of evidence that councillors are in cahoots with developers looking to demolish the social housing and build yet more massive luxury developments primarily for sale to the global “elite” of the extremely wealthy.

So much for the local picture. Nationally, it appears beyond argument that the government has failed again and again to update regulations following similar fires both in the UK and elsewhere. Yet again this is ideologically driven. Deregulation is a key principle of neo-liberalism. The government has an intrinsic belief that anything that adds costs or restriction to corporate profit should be resisted, and the idea of adding new regulation is simply anathema to them. That background cannot be ignored. The more you dig into this terrible tragedy, the more lurid a light is thrown on Neo-Liberal Britain.

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408 thoughts on “Housing Regulation

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  • Hieroglyph

    Also, the Queen can fuck off. She may be a nice lady, though frankly I doubt it, but she and her husband are the UK’s biggest landlord. They are the problem, alongside all the other members of the landlord class. I should note here that the not-for-profit scam has also taken hold in Australia. The leasing companies for social housing are themselves not-for-profit, but part of their remit is now to ‘transition’ from social housing to private housing. People are now to have ‘incentives’ to leave social housing. For those interested in such wonkish details, the document is buried 3 links into the official website. The world ‘private’ is, shall we say, used with conspicuous caution. It doesn’t appear at all on the public website …


    I note this because I always find it interesting how similar Australia and the UK are when it comes to the outlook of their political class. I’d also be a little sceptical about KCTMO’s not-for-profit status, and wonder who is pulling the strings. Strikes me as pretty obvious that the ‘not-for-profit’ tag is subject to some pretty serious gerrymandering, or ‘fraud and corruption’ as I prefer to call it. I do wonder if some of those landlords in parliament are having worried conversations with their lawyers just now, and suddenly becoming interested in investing in extra fire-safety equipment? A good thing if they do, of course, it would show some levels of empathy at least. For some of them, I have serious doubts if they are even capable of that much …

    Also, are the SNP planning on ridding us of those stupid Germans? I do hope so.

    • fred

      The queen isn’t a landlord at all. George III handed all control of and all income from Crown estates to the government in 1760. Last year they made over £300 million for the exchequer.

      • Phil the ex-frog

        “The queen isn’t a landlord at all.”

        Yes she is.

        To avoid administraton hassle/costs George III did relinquish control of the crown estates. In return for a handsome annual payment (currently approx £8m pa).

        However, the royals retain the Duchy of Lancaster and Duchy of Cornwall estates. Here the Queen and Prince of Wales are respectively the sole beneficiary and landlord.

        • fred

          So the government makes over £300 million from Crown Estates and gives £8 million back.

          That sounds like we’re getting a good deal.

    • German Girl

      I don’t get that. I am German.

      So the Queen is head of state and is supposed to “have oversight” over everything albeit “symbolically”.
      Nevertheless even this “symbolic oversight” can be “cancelled”???

      • fred

        Not so much cancelled as postponed.

        The government decides what it is going to do in the next year and the Queen reads it out. This time the government is deciding what it will do in the next two years instead. The government can’t introduce controversial new legislation because they wouldn’t pass so instead they will be concentrating entirely on Brexit which will need loads of new legislation.

    • Manda

      The Tories are terrified of another election and will try their best to limp along as long as possible to finish projects such as NHS privatisation which don’t require legislation. The leadership challenge to May will come sooner or later, she is becoming more toxic as the days pass. I doubt May will last much longer and think the Tories only have the delays and coming summer break to their advantage… will their fortunes change in the next few months? I think it’s downhill all the way myself but they can still do a huge amount of damage to society in the mean time.

  • Julian Turnbull

    Craig, this is the first time I’ve commented here. I rather like it. There aren’t too many obnoxious lunatics posting drivel (other than myself). Thank you for providing space for reasonable people to have a say. I think we’re desperate for it, given the dreadful influence of extreme right-wing billionaire tax-dodging Press Barons. Carry on the good work, and any time you’re short of funds let us know. I can always chip in the odd bob or two.

    • glenn_uk

      Julian – it’s good to hear your comments.

      CM doesn’t ask for money… but you could buy one of his books should you want to make some contribution. They do actually make good reading!

  • Johnstone

    TMO policy..’Stay put unless the fire is affecting your flat.’
    So what did the rule abiding residents do? Yet, how do the Met police count the death toll?
    They appear to be using the criteria ‘knowledge of named individuals being in their flats at the time of the fire.’ People who fit into this criteria are counted in. Logically where would the majority of residents of 120 flats be if they are following fire advice notices and where are all the survivors? asks a helper because she has not met any.
    The only reasonable explanation for this nonsense is that a policy on publication of death toll has been implement by arch agents of nonsense as they pile wrong doing upon wrong doing upon wrong doing….

  • Ron

    I see that my post around 10pm last night has been removed – I don’t know why – I don’t know its origin but it was passed to me by someone I know and trust who knows the area concerned well – it seemed worthy of sharing here especially as it is on social media and available to all anyway

    • frankywiggles

      Most human beings instinctively empathize with the victims and their families when a tragedy like this occurs.

    • Johnstone

      What the heck is going on?
      Note: This OpenRent Property Is No Longer Available For Rent. Description below is only for reference, and you can no longer book a viewing or contact this private landlord.

      A fabulous bright 2 bedroom flat furnished within 3 minutes Walk to Latimer Road tube station. The flat is on 18th floor of the newly renovated Grenfell Tower with panoramic views of London land marks. With 77 square meters in size, includes a contemporary fully fitted kitchen & open plan living room, 2 double bedrooms with fitted wardrobes, limestone bathroom & separate toilet. You will also find the office area along open space in Hallway provided with ample storage space.

      Fully furnished: furniture, kitchen utensils, washer & dryer, fridge freezer. The flat is well insulated. Property is close to all the amenities: walking distance from Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Market, easy reach from Westfields shopping centre. Gym/sport centre nearby as well as excellent restaurants all around the area catered for the trendy buzzing social scene
      Let Agreed – This property is no longer available for rent
      This property has now been taken off the market (as of 01 June 2017).

    • Sharp Ears

      If you are trying to insinuate that the majority of the tenants lived in this sort of style, you are wrong.

      Some flats had been sold leasehold. We already knew about that and about this advert btw.

      In any case, ALL of those who lived there were subjected to the same horror, the same toxic smoke and the route out if they were lucky via the same SINGLE staircase and SINGLE exit point.

      • Johnstone

        I did not write it therefore not insinuating anything just adding information to the thread..
        Strange to me that renovated “luxury’ apartments are dotted about the building at random and theres an artist impression of the future entrance…. very strange

        • Sharp Ears

          Johnstone. I was replying to ‘Adam Burgess’. The original comment in a thread is at the top and nearest the LH margin. Replies are gradually indented. Confusing? Yes.

    • Phil the ex-frog

      The majority of Right-To-Buy properties in London end up rented. I don’t know Grenfell but I guess, from knowing similar places, that the number of owner-occupiers was very low. The private renters, probably young transient workers/students, would be poor and paying more expensive rents.

      Anyway, an owner occupier will not be rich. They will have a monster of a mortgage.

  • Shrift

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  • fwl

    There seen to be terrible events where the state is keen to emphasise the detail but others where its the opposite. So now when something bad happens I think to myself which category is this and why. If there is a convenient baddie who fits an established narrative then we get the shocking detail including photos and numbers, but if it’s outside of that narrative then there seems to be some sort of obscuration.

    • Becky Cohen

      Good point, German Girl. One of the Tory MPs who filibustered a motion about improving fire regulations after the 2009 tower block fire was that odious sexist and transphobe, Phillip Davies. Apparently, he views gender equality and trans women as immoral. However, blocking motions to improve fire regs and health & safety legislation in high rise tower blocks so that children and adults end up burning to death to save money for his wealthy capitalist friends he regards as entirely moral. Instead of going around pestering immigrants, poor people and transgender folk the media should be turning up at Philip Davies’s doorstep, putting him on the spot and bombarding him (and those who similarly elected to obstruct the implementation of fire regs) with questions. Unfortunately though, the British Press decide to go after those who are poor and marginalised.

  • Becky Cohen

    In a nutshell, about 80 per cent of the British Press is owned by a handful of billionaires and the content is reflective of their opinions alone. Didn’t Murdoch once say something along the lines of: “If you want to know my opinion on anything read the editorial in The Sun”. A brief overview of the consistent themes running through the mainstream media in the UK are its: sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, classism, bullying of single mothers, bullying of immigrants, bullying of people who are unemployed and in receipt of benefits. A general anti-progressive and paranoid narrative which I’m hoping people are becoming aware of after all these years. The most important thing to do is to read between the lines and it’s important that we teach children at school to grow up to do this and to find out things for themselves before they believe anything that’s printed in a newspaper, posted on the Internet or broadcast on the BBC, Fox News and Sky News, for example.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Why hasn’t cabbie Behaillu been charged with gross negligence at least.

    The guy living in the fire trap block for years without allegedly knowing so, and having no fire exstinguisher to deal with an alleged class c fire when there was no sprinkler system nor smoke alarms in public areas?

    It almost sounds as if expected a fire.

  • yvonne lunde andreassen

    Anybody who has ever worked at any level in he building industry is familiar with cynical ‘ talk about brown envelopes; Councillors are in positions of power – without any responsibility for the results of their actions;
    I remember when these multi story monsters were first proposed and built under the Thatcher/Keith Joseph
    Regime. They were (we were told) the answer to all housing problems; No doubt the earliest ones were equipped with decent central fire alarms and means of escape. However, gradually over time these and the building regs have been eroded in favour of profit for the developers;

  • Paul Barbara

    @ Craig
    ‘..But this disastrous contracting out is not always to private for profit companies. It is sometimes to what Tories call the “third sector”, meaning charities and not for profit companies. Much of the aid budget is now spent this way. Not at all coincidental, the pumping of large amounts of public money into this sector has coincided with a quite incredible rise in the salaries and emoluments of senior charities staff.’

    It also coincides with the increasing ‘politicisation’ of these NGO’s, where they increasingly support the ‘Government Narrative’ in situations like Syria or Kuwait, where Amnesty International unquestioningly echoed government lies about the Syria Government forces using Chemical Weapons, and in Kuwait the ‘Incubator Baby’ lie (I don’t know if AI receive Government funds, directly or indirectly, but they are certainly easily fooled to echo government narratives).
    As for the ISIS PR group, the ‘White Helmets’, they are beyond the pale, and they certainly have obtained millions from the US, UK and other governments.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Why no official days of mourning over the London tragedy, like in Portugal over those terrible fires near Coimbra?

    Leave mourning to the residents while the officials get on with their dirty business?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Can you believe it: no arrests in the Grenfell Tower tragic fire, much less appointing a judge to rule on it.

    Is official Britain totally asleep, hopelessly on drugs, or dead?

  • Alan McMahon CEng MIStructE

    The cladding that caught alight at Lakanal House in 2009 killing 6 should, as Jenny Jones says in today’s Guardian, have set alarm bells ringing. The London regulations that applied in the 1950s called for cladding on buildings over 100ft in height to be fire resistant to 60 minutes. That requirement was swept away by new regulations that came into force in 1985. Why this was so would be a good enough question in itself. But there are others.

    At the inquest, the barristers acting for the victims’ families argued that the old regulations still applied to this, an existing, building. The coroner of the 2013 inquest judged however in favour of Southwark Council, i.e. that the old regulations did not apply to the recladding of this building, and the fact that the cladding did not have a 60 minute fire rating was therefore in compliance with the regulations. She was ‘not persuaded’, she said, by the arguments of the victims’ barristers, though the fact that it came down to ‘persuasion’ indicates the contentious nature of the case. Anyone interested in the details see here https://tinyurl.com/y6w53mj8

    First therefore, the rules were (in deepest Thatcherite 1985, I might say) relaxed, for whatever misguided reason. Second, the new, less stringent, rules were deemed by the coroner to apply retrospectively to existing buildings like Lakanal house and mid-70s built Grenfell Tower. I.e. it was deemed satisfactory to take buildings which were intrinsically safe and make them less safe by attaching to them non- fire-rated cladding. Disastrously so, as we now know, in the case of Grenfell Tower.

    This seems to be what is at the bottom of the deep unease now felt that government were presented in 2013 with both the tragedy of Lakanal House and the clearly controversial question of whether the new relaxed rules ought to have applied retrospectively to existing buildings. I think whatever the rights and wrongs of the coroner’s verdict on that, it ought to have been obvious to anyone looking at the facts of what happened at Lakanal House that the relaxation of these rules was highly questionable, and needed thorough and speedy re-examination and most probably reversal.

    The concern now is that answers to this, and as to why there was a four year delay culminating in this tragedy, are found quickly.

  • Dave

    The Grenfell Tower disaster was the result of UK attempt to join the Euro-currency. I know its not true, but its truer than Corbyn’s attempt to blame cuts in public spending (EU austerity).

    But the reason its partly to blame is because along with mickey-mouse accounting there was the promotion of mickey-mouse governance that helped fiddle the books. After right to buy the funding rules were changed leading to a collapse in council house building and this continued under New Labour. But for legal reasons such a security of tenure, council housing couldn’t simply be handed over to ‘private’ social landlords without a tenants ballot that were mostly lost because tenants preferred poor but secure accommodation.

    New housing projects were built by ‘private’ entities, often based on PFI funding, but to get around the tenant ballot the government came up with the ALMO ploy. That the council housing remained publicly owned but privately run and the money raised by the ALMO was officially considered ‘private’ rather than ‘public’ funding. Different forms of mickey mouse governance were tried including the arrangement at Grenfell Towers.

    Once things are in place they can be difficult to change and the point about Kensington it is an extremely wealthy council so there may be local factors at play, such as opportunities for corruption. But ironically due to the housing crisis the last act of the Brown government was to change the rules and I think most councils have done away with ALMO type arrangements and brought all council housing back in house, under direct management and control, with added accountability via councillors.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    While May is most generously compensating those made homeless by the Grenfell Tower fire, why isn’t she doing something publicly to expose and punish those State agents and surviving residents who made it happen?

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