Grenfell always gives up its secrets and they retain the power to shock | Kenan malik
IIt’s not just the broken promise, it’s also the ruthlessness of it. In February, Boris Johnson told Parliament in the wake of the siding scandal that “no tenant should have to pay the unaffordable costs of fixing defects they did not cause.”
The fire safety bill became law last week, but only after MPs five times rejected attempts to provide financial support to tenants facing ruinous costs for the replacement of flammable siding. There is a £ 5billion fund to support tenants in taller towers, although the actual cost of siding replacement could be three times that amount. For tenants in blocks less than 18 meters high, the support is not even insufficient.
The government’s stubbornness is unfathomable. It is also not surprising. Because, as the Grenfell Tower Investigation revealed, the state – at local and national levels – has continually collaborated with business to the detriment of ordinary people. Private companies continued to sell materials they knew could kill. Governments and regulators have refused to act. The inhabitants who spoke were condemned to be “troublemakers”. Arconic, the company that made the Grenfell Tower liner, knew it was a fire trap. The company created more fire-resistant coatings for use in countries with more stringent regulations, like Germany, but pushed the dangerous version into Britain. He allowed it to be used in a form called a “cassette” (in which the panels are folded into a box shape to hide the fasteners) although he recognized as early as 2004 that it could be fatal in a fire. The cassette system was used on the Grenfell Tower. An internal memo from 2007 predicted that a fire in buildings with such a coating could result in “60 to 70“dead; 72 people were killed at Grenfell. Arconic misleads the certification body, the British Board of Agrément (BBA), which adopted it as safe.
Kingspan, the company that supplied much of the Grenfell insulation, called Kooltherm K15, changed the way the product was manufactured in 2006. The new version performed disastrously in testing – an internal document the described it as creating a “raging hell” – but Kingspan sold using the old product’s test results. “What. We lied? asked an employee in a text. “All we do is stay here,” replied another. After the isolation of Celotex, a third company involved in the Grenfell disaster, failed a safety test, the company used concealed non-combustible panels to take it to its next test. An employee told the survey that “this is not the only manipulation of test data.”
It’s hard to overstate the depth of the scandal revealed by the investigation, even though it has received relatively little coverage in recent months. What has been revealed is a culture of corruption and contempt for people’s lives in pursuit of profit. It is not something specific to the construction. From Boeing to Volkswagen, of clothing manufacturers at large pharma, we have seen in recent years how much lying and cheating is part of big business. This is how the market works.
However, it’s not just about companies that know how to get around the regulations. It’s also about the regulators (and governments) that allow them to do this.
The chairman of Arconic told the investigation that the BBA could have found the real results by audit. This is no excuse to lie in the first place, but it is true that the certification body could have looked at the company’s claims more zealously if it had wanted to.
In 2015, the National House Building Council (NHBC) realized that Kingspan’s product did not comply with the regulations. Kingspan threatened legal action and organized a public relations campaign. The NHBC changed their mind and approved the insulation. An intern Kingspan touted email that NHBC had “effectively facilitated the passage of compliance for a selection of brands of combustible insulation,” the “direct result of our testing and campaigning on this issue.”
The Building Research Establishment, a national research center privatized in 1997, did not notice the hidden panels that Celotex used to test its insulation. Many experts are wondering how.
There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about “crony capitalism,” jobs for boys and backhand deals. There is also a deeper problem. Over the past four decades, the state has outsourced authority and power to independent organizations and private companies. It’s a process that emptied the state, made businesses freer to self-regulate, and eroded the distinction between government and business, hence the “revolving door” we’ve heard a lot about in recent weeks.
Regulation – proper regulation – has been eaten away. Corruption has normalized. Grenfell is a tragic consequence.
This article was changed on May 2, 2021 because an earlier version incorrectly named the Building Research Establishment as the British Research Establishment.