Industry

31 JAN 2022

WHY A PUBLIC/PRIVATE SECTOR FUND IS CRUCIAL TO FIXING THE BUILDING SAFETY CRISIS

Michael Gove’s recent commitment to obtain a fully funded action plan from developers to deal with the cladding crisis is only part of a package of measures needed to fix the problem, argues Clare B Marshall.

Recent developments have signalled some steps in the right direction, yet years after the Grenfell tragedy, the UK government still drags its heels. A funding mechanism sufficient to protect all those impacted by dangerous cladding and other building safety issues is still to be ratified. But why? 

A safety issue of this magnitude should have been fast-tracked with decisions made in months, not years. Consultation on a new developer tax, industry levies - and Michael Gove’s recent commitment to obtain a fully funded action plan from developers - are only part of a package of measures needed to fix the problem. 

Procrastination and delay in decision making and government intervention has had other long-term ramifications - both for homeowners and business. Take insurance. The government has finally recognised the need to engage with the insurance industry on rising insurance premiums impacting hundreds of thousands of homeowners. This conversation with insurers must also extend into the rising costs (and limited cover available) to businesses for professional indemnity and other important insurances. A further knock-on consequence of the building safety crisis.  

As to the primary issue of fixing unsafe buildings, urgent steps are needed with some radical thinking and collaboration with all key stakeholders - not in a silo with those viewed to have the deepest pockets. 

The current focus on only part of the industry, namely developers, fails to use the many additional avenues for funding across the construction, financial and insurance sectors. Let’s not forget that many developers have already taken significant steps towards resolving this matter.

These additional avenues arguably, no, crucially, must include manufacturers and suppliers of the cladding central to the issue. And whilst government has committed additional funds, these sums still fall short and fail to recognise a key originating cause - deregulation. 

Too often, government gets bogged down in bureaucracy, clouded by process and politics, rather than focussing on the central goals. In this case of ensuring safety, adequate housing, transparency - and that the same mistakes don’t happen again. Sometimes commercial enterprises bury their heads in the sand rather than owning up to problems of their making, leading to long-term reputational damage, too deep from which to recover, and leading to eventual collapse. 

Last summer, and as reported in Infrastructure Intelligence, I tabled a recommendation for the public and private sectors to come together, pool resources and create a fund to finally fix the problem

The approach of putting people and safety first would bring a degree of closure to the thousands of households impacted. A fund would remove the need for a myriad of wasteful, stressful and protracted court cases. It would enable transparency as to the real cost of the problem and allow regulatory changes to avoid the situation ever happening again. Leaving in the hands of the justice system, only those culpable of serious failings. 

With hundreds of thousands of buildings impacted, many stakeholders (not only developers but the wider construction supply chain and insurers) hold significant reserves - monies sitting dormant, ring-fenced in their accounts. Release of these funds, combined with increased government funding, would surely enable the immediate focus of getting on and fixing this now-critical problem.

This idea of a combined fund would be endorsed by many in the private sector and the current timeframes set by Michael Gove create an opportunity for a broad section of industry – many already willing and trying to make a difference – to come together. 

Those organisations less willing (and often those most at risk from litigation) must be pressured by the opportunity presented. To come to the table and to avoid the inevitable damage of not doing so. 

For the sake of all of the impacted households - and to avoid future catastrophes - government, industry and insurers must work together now before history repeats itself.

Clare B Marshall is the founder of the business consultancy 2MPy.

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