“Whatever it takes” should be the mantra of our elected government when faced with a scandal that cuts across every level in our society; whatever it takes! Easy to write, so difficult for governments with all their conflicting pressures to agree to.
For those of my readers who do not live here in the United Kingdom (note 1) there may not be so much interest in the scribbles this week, as they concern two particular scandals, one domestic and the other with international reverberations, that the Government is facing. If you are directly involved, they are dreadful; if not you sense that the government sometimes just has to say ‘Whatever it takes, we will put this right’ Wishful thinking huh? Let me explain.
Every country in the world has some form of postal service, some better than others. Our postal service, Royal Mail, was a government organisation responsible for both the physical post offices on the high street and for the collection and delivery of the country’s mail and parcels. From its origins in the C16th, it was eventually privatised in 2014, being split into two companies. Royal Mail delivers parcels and mail and The Post Office’s nationwide network of branches offers a range of postal, government and financial services. There used to be two deliveries of mail a day …… but that was in the days when there was no electronic mail and life was conducted at a gentler pace. Almost every village would have had a post office; 30 years ago there were 23,000 of them but now only 11,500. Luckily here in Hove I can walk in ten minutes to two, both run by families of Asian descent, confirming their reputation of being good with figures.
Inside the Blatchington Road Post Office
In the year 2000 the Post Office, still in government ownership, introduced a new computer system, one designed by Fujitsu. Between 2000 and 2014 736 sub-postmasters (Note 2) were prosecuted for false-accounting, theft and fraud; postmasters who had had an unblemished record going back years, loyal to a fault. No one in the Post Office linked the sudden increase in money issues with the new system, happy to blame their sub-postmasters; many were fined, some went bankrupt and some went to prison. The computer programme had some serious systemic faults but these were not admitted by the Post Office until it was dragged through the High Court by 39 ex-post office workers last month. An inquiry ordered by the government will look at this scandal, but currently it has no power to compel witness to attend or hand over evidence. Calls for a judge-led inquiry are falling on deaf ears. In my view the government should do whatever it takes to compensate those wrongly accused as quickly as possible and then look to punish those who were responsible. Whatever it takes! Be generous!
On 14th June 2017, four years ago last Monday, a 24-story tower block called Grenfell Tower in west London caught fire; seventy two people died as the flames quickly engulfed the whole building. A Public Inquiry has been sitting since September 2017; Phase 1 is complete and the hope is that the inquiry will report next year. Meanwhile the issue of flammable cladding on high-rise buildings has come under the spotlight, not only here but also internationally I suspect; changes to building regulations have meant most has to be removed.
The whole building aflame – photo DT
The government has agreed to cover leaseholders’ costs for the removal of dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings but has told those owning buildings between 11m and 18m high they have to pay themselves. In wonderful ‘government speak’ the housing department said “government funding does not absolve building owners of the responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe.” Given that building regulations control every aspect of construction and design, isn’t there an unspoken assumption that owners should believe what they buy is OK? When I buy a car, there is an inherent belief it’s passed all the safety tests, and it’s not my responsibility to check.
A more recent cladding fire in Canary Wharf, London
Home ownership is the goal of so many here in the UK; a place on the housing ladder, climbing towards your 4 bedroom mansion. Now thousands of first time buyers are stuck, unable to sell because the building containing their flat doesn’t qualify for Government finance, yet has unsafe cladding, paying £50 per month for ‘fire wardens’ to keep a 24/7 check on the building and living somewhere where the smell of a distant BBQ is likely to give one heart palpitations!
My landlord, Southern Housing Group, is very professional in trying to ensure all its buildings conform to the latest regulations. However, sometimes a degree of common sense is needed when applying these. (Note 3)
A new Amber House ‘In Case of Fire’ notice
Whatever it takes? Well, there are so many professions involved here, from architects who designed wooden (not fire resistant) floors to the nice little balcony, local authorities who often look for the cheapest refurbishments of their estates and, as in the case of Grenfell, not too rigorous in the choice of contractors, building suppliers and construction companies, to property developers and building planners and inspectors, that spreading the costs of solving this scandal and giving every flat owner peace of mind and some fairness in the action … should be the mark of a government that recognises the people who live in dangerous apartments are not at fault.
Whatever it takes! Be generous and big hearted and get these two scandals sorted and earn the respect of our society writ large.
Richard 18th June 2021
Note 1 The United Kingdom comprises England, Wales and Scotland (otherwise known as Great Britain) and Northern Ireland. Whole and sovereign – despite what a certain Frenchman might claim.
Note 2 For ‘sub-postmasters’ read ‘sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses’. Don’t want to appear anti-woke!
Note 3 If you can’t work out what’s wrong, text me.