On Monday, the government published a draft of its Building Safety Bill, aimed at making buildings over 18 metres high in England safer following the fire at Grenfell tower three years ago. Disappointingly, the draft legislation leaves many leaseholders responsible for making buildings safe.
The government has previously said that leaseholders should not face "unaffordable costs", but this provided little consolation to leaseholders when the government's own impact assessment states that cladding victims could be forced to pay up to £78,000 to make their homes safe. Adding further insult to injury, government ministers branded the costs "affordable".
This week I met with leaseholders in my constituency who disagreed. They live in a 344 apartment tower block in Edgbaston, which a recent Fire Engineer’s report found to have a 100% failure rate in the External Wall Systems. The leaseholders shared their powerful stories about the devastating financial and personal impact the cladding scandal has had on their lives.
The testimonies they shared were truly heartrending. The residents rightly feel shocked and angered by what has happened and uncertain about the future during an already difficult time.
This is about so much more than just the significant financial costs they are facing. This scandal has already had a serious impact on residents’ mental health, their family life, and the sense of safety they should feel in their own home.
The government must stop prevaricating. Instead, they must take immediate action against this injustice. Leaseholders, like those in my constituency, need absolute clarity about where they stand.
The size and scope of the government's Building Safety Fund, set up to meet the cost of remediating non-ACM cladding, is simply inadequate. Over 1,300 applications have been made so far for the £1 billion fund, which averages out to around £725,000 per tower block. Given that the government says it will cost at least £3 million per building to fix, it’s clearly insufficient.
The fund is operating on a first come first served basis and is limited to £1 billion. I have notified the buildings in my constituency which I believe may be affected and eligible for the fund, but I would strongly encourage building owners or other responsible entities in both the social and private housing sectors with any concerns that their building might be affected to apply for the fund. You have until the 31st July to register your interest and you can do that here.
Leaseholders who are concerned that the owner of their building is not taking sufficient action to remediate unsafe cladding, or is passing remediation costs onto them, are strongly encouraged to fill out this formand get in touch with me.
Thanks to the Tories, the NHS is now on the table
On Monday, the Trade Bill came before the House to be voted on. But the Bill contained serious shortcomings and lack of accountability.
That's why I supported a new clause that aimed to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services from any form of control from outside the UK.
I supported another new clause to require imports of agricultural goods to meet animal health and welfare, environmental, plant health, food safety and other standards that are at least as high as UK standards.
I also supported an amendment to ensure that the government must gain the consent of the devolved governments.
Finally, and most importantly, I supported a new clause to address some of the significant democratic deficits in the Trade Bill. Parliament should have both a voice and a vote when it comes to future trade deals.
Unfortunately, all of these amendments were voted down by Tory MPs. This represents a massive missed opportunity and it seems that the Tories have seen to it that our health service is on the table after all.
Care home heroes
It was a pleasure to meet with staff from Edgbaston Beaumont care home today. They've done incredible work in demanding circumstances to look after their residents and staff. I want to once again thank them and all frontline heroes for everything they have done and continue to do during this crisis.
Face masks mandatory in shops from today
From today, face coverings are mandatory for shoppers in England, unless you're covered by an exemption.
Please remember your face covering when you leave home, follow the shop rules, and respect staff and other customers.
More information on face coverings, how to make them and how to wear them, here.
My team and I have been busier than ever in helping local residents during lockdown and have opened and worked on thousands of cases on behalf of constituents on a wide range of issues.
Although parliament is now in recess, I will be continuing my work in the constituency and can be contacted in the usual ways:
As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch if there is anything I can help with.
International Development news
The government cuts aid budget but evades scrutiny
The government used the last day before summer recess to announce, in a letter, that £3 billion will be cut from the UK's aid budget. This is because of the UK's legally binding commitment to international development spend of 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) - which has plummeted due to Covid-19.
However, the latest Treasury estimates show a fall of 9.1% of UK GDP in 2020, yet the government is cutting the aid budget by 20%. It is clear that they are using the excuse of the global pandemic and domestic recession to cut support for the world’s poorest.
The timing of the announcement also was no accident, and left no chance for parliamentary scrutiny nor consultation.
The British public are rightly proud of the impact UK aid has in supporting the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.
As we face the reality of lower GDP, projects and programmes that are not transparent or have been found to have no or limited development impact should be the focus of re-evaluation.
Labour wants the aid budget to deliver value for money for British taxpayers and that's why we are urging the government to make sure UK aid delivers on its purpose of tackling poverty.