Buckinghamshire fire safety checks hit record low

Buckinghamshire firefighters carried out a record-low number of safety checks on buildings last year, new figures reveal.

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 9:31 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 9:34 am
Buckinghamshire fire safety checks hit record low

Fire services conduct audits on most public buildings and the shared areas of residential properties such as flats to make sure they are in line with safety laws.

But with inspections hitting a record low across England last year, the Fire Brigades Union warns the scale of the building safety crisis – exposed by the Grenfell Tower fire – is “beyond all current comprehension”.

Home Office data shows the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire and Rescue Service completed 267 fire safety audits on buildings in 2019-20.

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This was the lowest number of inspections since comparable records began in 2010-11.

Across England, the number of audits completed also fell to a record low of 48,400 last year – 43% fewer than in 2010-11.

Buildings tested include care homes, hospitals and high-rises, as well as schools and shops.

Local breakdowns on the type of buildings checked were unavailable, but nationally 3,500 were undertaken on blocks of flats.

This was a slight decrease on 2018-19 and far fewer than the 6,500 done in 2017-18.

The Home Office said the higher number that year was likely to be in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster, which killed 72 people in June 2017.

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said more than a decade of government cuts had led to preventative work being slashed.

“The Grenfell Tower fire exposed the shameful state of building safety in the UK,” he said.

“The scale of the building safety crisis is beyond all current comprehension – and firefighters have a crucial role to play in tackling it.”

Mr Wrack said the union supports the Government’s new bills on fire safety and building safety, which aim to expand firefighters’ prevention and protection work.

“But to be effective, the fire and rescue service must be properly funded,” he added. “As things stand, the Government is trying to do public safety on the cheap.”

Of the audits undertaken in Buckinghamshire last year, 79 (30%) resulted in an “unsatisfactory” rating.

Crews issued 101 informal notifications to premises that had failed an audit, explaining what action needed to be taken.

If informal notifications fail, they can take tougher action and Buckinghamshire crews handed out 11 enforcement notices – formal warnings that a building breaches the law.

Prohibition notices, ordering access to a building to be restricted or for it to be closed altogether, were issued on 13 occasions.

And there was one conviction for failure to make changes ordered in a formal notice.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the Government was committed to providing fire services with the resources they need.

She said: “Funding for standalone fire and rescue services has increased by 3.2% in 2020-21.

“We’ve also made more than £20 million of funding available to the sector to support fire protection work – £16 million of which is being invested directly to increase the number of audits and qualified officers.”