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Do we really want to play a blame game?

Making sure that residents are safe is the most important thing after the Grenfell Tower fire, not playing a blame game, says Sharon Morden.

More than nine months after the tragic events at Grenfell it’s plain to see why the media is still pointing the finger. There are so many questions that still need answering. Among those is the need for clarity on building regulations and the processes in place for ensuring residents are safe in their homes.

But do we really want to play a blame game?

In today’s world of instant news and rife social media speculation, everyone seems to be an expert and, in the public’s imagination, such events always require a singular cause, rather than an integrated web of interconnected ones. Every tragic narrative needs a villain and there is an overwhelming drive to immediately point the finger and look for someone to blame. So we absorb content that reaffirms our position.

But click-bait headlines spouting expert knowledge, but offering nothing of the sort, only damages the flow of information and muddies the water. I’ve read much in the wake of the disaster from self-styled pundits who are more than happy to dish out blame and condemn those who they perceive to be responsible.

This doesn’t help anyone.

It’s easy to understand why the debate is too often driven by emotion. But what we need now is a rational debate about safety and preventative measures. Both within the industry, and with residents, many of whom still live in tower blocks where safety measures are still not met.

In my association, we have three tower blocks that failed the secondary fire safety tests. We will be removing the cladding this year and are in the process of installing sprinklers.Instead of establishing blame, our focus has been giving assurance to our residents. Since that fateful day in June, we have been clear on the purpose of our communications – to inform and reassure.

There will, inevitably, be different interpretations and grey areas, but we all have a responsibility to do the best we can with the information we have and explain this to our residents.  When we haven’t known the answer to any given question, we have been honest about the facts. And we have consistently reassured residents about what we are doing to keep them safe in their homes.

Ultimately, when you cut through all the noise, one simple fact remains. As landlords, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the homes we let meet all safety standards and we have an obligation to assure our residents that these standards are met.

As I write this blog post, I pause when I hear the word ‘cladding’ spoken by a Radio 4 presenter. The discussion is about a tower block in Greenwich, clad with the same as that on Grenfell. The focus is on who should pay for the replacement cladding the National House Building Council (NHBC) or the developer but, from the point of view of the residents, all they see is a cycle of blame with no one taking responsibility, leaving them feeling unsafe in their own homes.

It’s clear that the blame game will rumble on. With the need to establish who is going to have to bear the cost of replacement cladding, the threat of litigation looms large. Although what part of the complex ecosystem of government, statutory agencies, regulators, developers, contractors, sub-contractors, advisors, suppliers and landlords will trigger this is anyone’s guess.

I worry that this could muddy the waters further at a time when transparency is needed. The public demands answers. The families of the victims of Grenfell deserve it.

Only the facts will provide this.  It is essential we know what went wrong and how we can prevent anything like this happening ever again.

Because no-one wins a blame game.

Sharon Morden is business transformation manager at Newport City Homes



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