Hannah Blythyn MS, Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government
The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017 will remain in our minds forever. Never before has there been such a large loss of life in a dwelling fire in the UK. It is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to prevent anything like it happening again.
We already know that the fire exposed many serious weaknesses in the current law on building safety. There are too many opportunities to cut corners, or simply to allow risk to increase through neglect, and they need to be eliminated. We have published comprehensive and radical proposals to do just that, in our Building Safety White Paper. This will ensure that blocks of flats are designed, constructed and managed in ways that maximise safety and minimise the risk of fire.
But the Grenfell Tower fire was most immediately a challenge for the Fire and Rescue Service. As the Public Inquiry found, there are many lessons that the Service needs to learn. That is not a matter of blame: it is to be expected from an incident of this unprecedented scale and severity. The Public Inquiry made many recommendations about the emergency response to the fire. Most of these were directed specifically to the London Fire Brigade, but there is every reason to believe that they are more widely relevant. It is vital that the Service acts on these recommendations, to ensure we have the best possible response to any similar fire in the future.
In late 2019, I therefore asked my Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor, Dan Stephens, to conduct a thorough review of how our three Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) in Wales were learning the lessons from Grenfell. Dan has long experience as a chief fire officer in England and Australia, and has considerable expertise in firefighting operations. He has now completed and published his review. I would like to thank Dan and his team for their producing such a useful and detailed study.
Overall, I am very pleased that it concludes that our FRSs have adopted all of the Public Inquiry recommendations, and have fully implemented almost all of them. That in turn gives us significant assurance that the response to a similar incident in Wales would be swift and effective. As Dan’s report puts it, the FRSs’ work so far “has substantially reduced the likelihood of such catastrophic outcomes at an incident occurring in Wales.” I thank all involved in the Service for their efforts in achieving this.
The report also identifies several issues underlying the Public Inquiry findings, and recommends action on those too. They relate to guidance and training, intelligence-gathering, operational assurance and the use of breathing apparatus. These matters are equally important to ensuring continued high standards in emergency response, and I would urge our FRSs also to address them fully.