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LABC slams government over approved inspectors

11 July 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

A building inspector at work (Image: LABC)

Local Authority Building Control (LABC) has expressed “deep concern” about rumoured government plans to allow approved inspectors a continued role in the regulation of high-risk residential buildings (HRRBs).

LABC claimed it has heard from a senior official at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) that approved inspectors would continue to be involved in regulating in-scope buildings.

While LABC recognised that Dame Judith Hackitt envisaged retaining the expertise of approved inspectors through a consultancy or compliance support role for dutyholders in her independent review of Building Regulations and fire safety, it highlighted her call for a “single, streamlined regulatory route for the provision of building control…with oversight solely provided through Local Authority Building Control”.

It claimed that it now appears private sector inspectors “have been elevated to full independent regulatory involvement”.

It is also angry that in the current consultation, Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendation of a Joint Competent Authority (JCA), made up of LABC, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive will be dropped. Instead of the JCA, the government is looking at creating a new Building Safety Regulator. LABC said it had been informed that an existing, unnamed national regulator has been told to take control of the implementation and private sector organisations are expected to be involved in the compliance process.

'Completely undermined'

Lorna Stimpson, LABC’s deputy chief executive said: “MHCLG is currently consulting on proposals to reform the building safety regulatory system.  We have contributed thousands of hours of voluntary help to officials who said that they were implementing all 53 recommendations of the Hackitt Review.  But now we are told two of the Review’s main pillars – a single strong undisputed regulator and the removal of choice from those who regulate high risk projects – have been completely undermined by this new policy switch.” 

She added: “This switch also undermines the consultation, which is framed in terms of how the MHCLG is implementing all 53 Hackitt recommendations.  The failure to explain ministry intentions for the new regime will allow the civil service to claim the consultation is supported by industry – but support for what?  This is a sleight of hand. They haven’t declared that competing interests will remain at the centre of high-risk regulation.”

Paul Everall, LABC chief executive, said: “As a former senior civil servant I’m disappointed and saddened to see this consultation weakened by the ministry’s lack of transparency.  The structure has been deliberately obscured to give maximum freedom to civil servants.  It isn’t possible for responders to question this because feedback has been focussed on pre-set questions – you can’t question something that’s not revealed.  Clearly there’s an agenda here – which is ensure a role for private sector consultants in building safety regulation that is at odds with the recommendations of Dame Judith.”

But a spokesperson for MHCLG said: ““We do not recognise these claims - there has been an independent review of building safety reforms and the government has set out its response clearly in the current consultation document.”

MHCLG added that the LABC is “fully involved” in the work as a member of the Joint Regulators Group.

LABC is now seeking urgent meetings with MHCLG and Dame Judith to make clear its “deep concerns” over the perceived new direction and what LABC termed its “inherent risks to life safety”.  It is also briefing its 3,500-strong network and encouraging them to lobby their politicians, as well as urging them to take part in the government’s ongoing consultation.

Comments

Given that Local Authority Inspectors have no responsibility to the building owner when approving a building that does not meet Building Regulations, perhaps it is time to hand all inspections over to the private sector who should be carrying PI insurance?

MKF, 11 July 2019

once again are we ever going to learn in regarding these disasters, Ronan Point, Summerland, Lakanal, Grenfell, implementation recommendations by Dame Judith Hackitt to be ignored, Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendation of a Joint Competent Authority (JCA), made up of LABC, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive will be dropped and other parts watered down. Will the government ever learn, whilst some poor sod will end up the scape goat for the next disaster waiting.

John Stokes, 11 July 2019

this is typical of the government

james william parker, 11 July 2019

Surely the LABC cannot have too many compliants as Grenfell (the whole reason for the review) was an LABC project.

The LABC are also severely understaffed with the retained staff being largely under qualified and ageing.

It’s also worth noting that a large proportion of high rise buildings are Council owned which would be a conflict of interest.

John Smithy, 11 July 2019

Completely one sided piece. Where are comments from CICAIR or ACAI? the Hackitt review and these reforms have stemmed from the terrible Grenfell incident but it was LABC that were overseeing the cladding works on this tower, not approved inspectors. How on earth have LABC been allowed to turn this important step change in regulations into a petty argument between the 'honorable decent and honest' LABC and the seemingly 'unprofessional money hungry' Approved Inspectors (most of which comprise ex.LA surveyors by the way! Also, from a realistic and practical point of view, how can a cash strapped LABC take on more high risk work when their staff are leaving to join the better paid, better performing approved inspector organisations?

Johnson, 11 July 2019

I think the time has come for the LABC to step out of their little bubble that they live in and see what’s really happening in local authority building control. Having worked in LA building control for over 20 years and having recently switched to the private sector I have to say that I was surprised at the professionalism and competency of my new company, it made me realise that my former LA building control employer were clearly years behind in the industry and I would be fearful of the consequences should they be asked to control a high risk building.
So congratulations to the senior official who clearly recognisers where the expertise and competency lies.

Sayers, 13 July 2019

I have considerable experience with both LABC and approved inspectors. My personal opinion is approved inspectors want to get onto site, have a quick look round and get on to the next fee paying customer. LABC inspectors, interrogate the situation, provide more clarity with complex and potentially high risk solutions and make it easier to develop a collaborative working relationship in establishing compliance with regulatory standards. Grenfell is a poor example for citing a non LABC involvement. Grenfell was about a failed product, that was compliant. Using Grenfell as a big stick to hit LABC inspectors, is a convenient situation, that is being exploited by promoters of approved inspectors. This is yet another example of the race to the bottom within the UK Construction Industry. Be careful what you wish for.

STP - MCIOB, 13 July 2019

Wether or not you’re for LABC or AI’s it really shouldn’t matter. The fact is things need to change not just regards the implementation of the Building regulations but to the construction industry as a whole. There are far too many areas left unchecked. The time is coming where we need to work together and stop throwing mud at each other. Be it LABC or AI’s, time would better spent by coming together to tackle the issues that need addressing for the betterment of our industry.

Smith, 13 July 2019

LABC should focus the Competency of their own teams. The private sector are independently audited and some Approved Inspectors have obtained ISO17020 as a measure of their quality and competence. Where are the professional standards and independent checking measures with the LABC?

The outcome of BSF consultation should ultimately ensure that the right experience and quality team is used to Regulate a building. The experience of Complex buildings sits with a handful of Approved Inspectors. The rest cover domestic works and or warranty inspections for the housing market the same as LABC. It seems clear that the regulator that controls tall or complex buildings should be licensed to do do and be able to demonstrate independently audited competence. I can’t understand why LABC don’t just act in an enforcement capacity and focus on housing and domestic works within their borough?

If they put as much effort into their quality as they do lobbying for total control of the BC system they might actually be able to deliver the kind of BC service that they crave and the industry demands.

Dale, 13 July 2019

As someone who works for a warranty provider as an approved inspector I at times inspect buildings for warranty purposes while others provide BC.
I am frequently appalled by what has been missed, misinterpreted or plain ignored by the LABC inspectors including 3 storey homes with no protected corridors, incorrect height or size of escape windows, inadequate handrails or staircase head height. Often they have given incorrect advice to the builder on how to achieve compliance! When challenged they almost always admit to having got it wrong. In my humble opinion going back to a single provider for BC would be a mistake.

David Walling , 17 July 2019

It is interesting to read comments both for and against the LABC, especially as in recent weeks several Approved / private inspector companies have ceased trading. Despite their credentials and registration by the CIC they have been unable to obtain relevant insurance to continue trading. This has resulted in many schemes having to be returned to Local Authorities and has left people without the valid applications they thought they had. Added to this many people are unable to get plans, inspection records and other details from their AI, which leaves them in a terrible position. We do not have a good system at all, which in my mind is the major issue with privatising any regulatory sysrem. How many other regulatory systems are open to private competition in the UK?

Gary Hutchinson, 17 July 2019

Instead of having a dig at one another I think the most sensible approach is to work together to make the built environment safer. I feel both approved inspectors and local authority inspectors should continue to work on all building projects but on larger projects there should be an independent checking which could be private or government run who overlook the fire safety works.

Its a great shame the outcome after Grenfell towers is finger pointing to try and resolve the matter, whereas there should be a review of how to make the whole planning and building control departments more effective and simpler.

Bilal Altaf, 18 July 2019

Having spent my whole working career on site, LA Building Control and different AI's it's safe to say I've seen many issues over the years. No person or body is perfect, a top professional still makes mistakes just considerably less common than others in training. There are lessons to be learned following the review but the first should be the review itself. Many others have commented on levelling the field for AI's v's LA's - insurance and audit being common threads. 10 of my 30+ years in construction were for a council BC department never saw me externally audited, how's that safe? Similarly in the private sector there are hundreds of schemes per year where I am the sole person from start to finish covering plan assessment, inspection and authorising issue of final paperwork - I feel we should insert pier review sampling into a code of conduct instead of just focusing on our trainees.

Matt Fahey, 19 July 2019

Are we blind that we cannot see competition leading us to the bottom and those who oppose are blinded by greed? Many claim they are passionate about building safety and have the experience beyond Local Authority. Why not join Local Authority and take a lead role to raise the standard as one Regulator?

AJ, 31 July 2019

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