Grenfell: Michael Gove Threatens Cladding Companies With ‘Severe Consequences’

Grenfell: Michael Gove Threatens Cladding Companies With ‘Severe Consequences’
Cladding is removed from the side of Whitebean Court in Salford, Manchester, on June 26, 2017. (Andrew Yates /Reuters)
Chris Summers
4/21/2023
Updated:
4/21/2023

Housing Secretary Michael Gove has threatened “severe consequences” if the companies responsible for producing the flammable cladding and insulation panels involved in the Grenfell Tower fire do not come up with a financial support package.

The fire in the West London suburb of North Kensington in June, 2017 killed 72 people.

A public inquiry has heard the blaze began in a refrigerator in a fourth-floor flat, but spread quickly up the side of the 24-storey building. This was possible because the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding panels and insulation panels that had been fitted to the exterior of the tower as part of a renovation programme in 2016 were flammable.

After the fire, then-Prime Minister Theresa May ordered that cladding on hundreds of tower blocks across the country be tested and removed if found to be flammable, but progress has been slow—and largely because of the costs involved.

The government has funded most of the cost of removing cladding from council and housing association blocks, but many leaseholders and private landlords are bearing the cost for hundreds of other towers.

Dany Cotton (L), commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, speaks to then-Prime Minister Theresa May (2nd L) as she visits Grenfell Tower in London, on June 15, 2017. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dany Cotton (L), commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, speaks to then-Prime Minister Theresa May (2nd L) as she visits Grenfell Tower in London, on June 15, 2017. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The government believes that manufacturers Kingspan, Arconic, and Saint-Gobain should stump up money to pay for the removal of the cladding. On Thursday, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) confirmed that Gove had written to the companies’ shareholders asking them to use their “position of influence” to get the firms to “engage constructively in helping us reach a just resolution for all concerned.”

The main institutional investors involved are Blackrock, Vanguard, Fidelity Management and Research, and the Norwegian central bank, Norges Bank.

A DLUHC spokesman said the shareholders were told that if a financial package was not forthcoming, “the consequences for that firm are likely to be severe.”

Gove’s letter also warned the investors of reputational damage if he was forced to use “the legal and commercial tools available.”

Gove Says Things Could Get ‘Extremely Uncomfortable’

The housing secretary said a legal solution would make the cladding companies “extremely uncomfortable.”
He said in the letter: “I have always been clear that those responsible for the building safety crisis must pay. But despite the fact that their products continue to put lives at risk, some cladding firms have no intention of doing what’s right and addressing their moral and financial obligations to innocent residents.

“Today, we ask responsible investors to use their influence to encourage these companies to come forward immediately with a comprehensive financial package for remediation work.

“It cannot be right that cladding companies continue to profit whilst so many innocent, hardworking people face financial hardship and misery. To those cladding companies who fail to do the right thing: you will face severe consequences and I will use all commercial and legal tools available to me to ensure you take responsibility,” Gove wrote.

The DLUHC also said 46 firms have now signed up to post-Grenfell building safety contracts.

A huge fire engulfs the Grenfell Tower in West London on June 14, 2017. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)
A huge fire engulfs the Grenfell Tower in West London on June 14, 2017. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Gove is also considering the findings of a review of the testing regime for construction products, commissioned after the Grenfell inquiry and carried out by Paul Morrell and Anneliese Day KC.

Morrell and Day said in their report that “Amongst the least edifying spectacles of the Grenfell Tower tragedy have been the arguments deployed by successive parties in denying or deflecting responsibility.
“It is for the public inquiry to investigate and report on the failings that occurred and by whom, but there are some truths that should be taken as evident.”

‘A Long Way from Justice’

“Reform of the construction products sector is vital and long overdue. But we are still a long way from justice—true justice for Grenfell’s bereaved, survivors, and residents and for innocent leaseholders trapped in unsafe buildings across the country,” the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign group said in a statement.
In November 2022, Imran Khan, a lawyer representing 25 survivors and bereaved relatives, said he hoped the public inquiry would lead to meaningful action.

Making his closing statement at the end of the second and final phase of the inquiry, Khan said: “Our clients truly, truly hope that this inquiry does not prove to be another administrative formality, a box-ticking exercise.”

Adrian Williamson KC, a lawyer who represented other Grenfell victims, told the inquiry: “This is not just a story of incompetence or worse on the past of individuals and companies. They were all operating within a culture which did not encourage either competence or honesty, and a market and a system in which there was a headlong race to the bottom.”

Kingspan, Arconic, and Saint-Gobain have all denied they bear corporate responsibility for the Grenfell fire.

The inquiry was set up by the then-Prime Minister Theresa May and was conducted in parallel with a criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police, which could lead to criminal charges of manslaughter or corporate manslaughter.

Last year the Building Safety Act was passed, which introduced tougher rules for cladding on new high-rise buildings.
PA Media contributed to this report.
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
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