Grenfell video: Scotland s decisive response to its own tower-block tragedy put England to shame

Stephen Mackenzie Q&A There are so many dimensions to the Grenfell fire that it s hard to know where to start. In the video below, fire-risk consultant Stephen Mackenzie examines everything from the privatisation of fire-safety research to the inadequate logistical response on the ground in the immediate aftermath and the glacial pace of regulatory change in England versus Scotland. Below you can also read the transcript of the interview, which was conducted at fire safety exhibition FIREX 2017.

embedded content I m aware that the building regulations are under constant review, but there s a dichotomy in the turnaround time: four years for the Lakanal report, one year for the Scottish Garnock report. Stephen Mackenzie on the privatisation of fire research provision We ve increasingly seen over the past decades, our fire research provision within the UK, which is internationally renowned, becoming increasingly privatised. Whether it s a research establishment which is now a charitable trust, whether it s a fire service college which is now under the major government support contracts, or the emergency planning college which is under another support service provider On funding challenges for academic fire research The other thing we ve seen is it s increasingly more challenging for fire research academic teams to give that true independence in UK regions to secure funding for more fashionable, thematic areas. We have very small programmes with research, very important given life safety issues, and property protection issues, but we re in competition with larger, more profitable business degrees, MBAs and suchlike. On the skills shortage in fire engineering We ve also seen an erosion of succession routes for younger engineers in a challenging environment to become industry captains. Where we re seeing a throughput, so young professional awards, we didn t have recipients. So we need to look at that through funding of the fire cadet programme nationally, fire service trainees, encourage others to support those endeavours, and also look to how we fund our research. Ten or 11 years ago the Department of Community at local government was trying to get a national fire research academy off the ground. Unfortunately the commentary that came back on a very comprehensive research proposal, sponsored and supported by the whole sector, was you ve already got many organisations, therefore we can t fund it.

but it needs that focal point, that independence, and we need that international recognition and response. On the government s immediate response and failure to convene COBRA I think we ve seen a comparison between the Grenfell fire and Finsbury Park terrorist attack. Immediately following the Finsbury Park attack, Theresa May convened COBRA. That should have been the case on Thursday the day after the fire, or the latter hours of Wednesday. Convene COBRA, get emergency personnel leads in, coordinate with local authority responders, and have a better response and management of media, and to the families and residents concerns. Not only for Grenfell Tower blocks, but for all tower blocks in the UK. I feel it could have been sharper, more effective, and then the central government may not have received some of the criticism it has. I fully recognise the multi-agency response by the emergency services was fantastic. Those individuals in all three emergency services put themselves at significant risk, with debris falling down from the building on top of them.

Significant injuries occurring with the fire personnel, they still went into that building. When their dynamic risk assessments have said this is too risky for even emergency services personnel, possibly. The other thing we need to see is the softer services where we move from coordinated triad of emergency services. We have London-based annual emergency services exercises. We had one last year, a unified exercise, it went very well. We re very experienced. But then we seem to see some local stress and shocks with the local authority response. But now see that they have now caught up to speed. So I think moving from the emergency services response into the softer response by local authorities and the government, and there are a number of professional bodies in the UK that can facilitate and exist with that.

So it might be another line of enquiry for the coroner report, and also the public inquiry. On the Lakanal House report There s actually about 30 case studies, both in the UK and internationally, that we can refer to. Some of the more contemporary ones and two of the more important ones I ll draw attention to: the Lakanal report in 2013 following the Lakanal Camberwell fire where ladies and children expired. There were a number of recommendations made in that coroner court enquiry, predominantly looking at emergency service response and also looking at the complexities in interpretation of our building legislation, and the need for reducing, streamlining it, and making it more practical in application. That s a longstanding issue. I believe some of the professional bodies in the fire service community are doing research, campaigning, and petitioning government on that. I ll let them report on their own positions. On the Garnock Court enquiry The other more significant one that I have been talking about in the international press is quite a well-known report done by one of the legal councillors in the UK. It makes reference, and I m making referencing to the source, a public enquiry report, for the Garnock Court fire in Scotland in 1999.

The public inquiry was published in 2000, to the House of Commons. So we ve heard with Grenfell, Theresa May saying we ll go to a full public inquiry, we ll have parallel coroner court inquiries, and parallel criminal, and possibly civil actions as well. But in 2000, there was a report, and I ll quote, while this inquiry did not suggest the majority of external cladding systems in the UK currently in use pose a serious threat to life safety or property in event of fire, they did go on to add, we do not believe it should take a serious fire in which many people are killed before all reasonable steps are taken towards minimising the fire risk. They then go on to make commentary about the inclusion of standards through the British Standards Institute, revision of the Approved Document B, and the title of that report under the reference was The Potential Risk of Fire Spread in Buildings via External Cladding Systems. We have known about this problem and issue in the fire sector, the House of Commons are aware of it. the Prime Minister s office is now aware of it, I imagine, through the national press and their own technical advisors. On the glacial pace of regulatory change in England versus Scotland Let s look at legislation. We did it in Scotland. When we reviewed our fire safety legislation we also brought in new building regulations, we brought in new technical handbooks.

And I believe, if memory services me correct, the most recent release was either in June 2016 or June 2017. I am aware that the building regulations are under constant review. But there seems to be a dichotomy in the turnaround time: four years for the Lakanal report, one year for the Scottish Garnock report. Fire legislation report in Scotland was reviewed in 2005, and continued on the new basis, performance basis, whereas we appear to be limping on with a very outdated and outmoded document. Our colleagues at yesterday s expert panel FIREX International 2017 held a debate on the Grenfell fire were quite vocal about that position.

Privacy assured! Politics, the police & surveillance The Standard

Public trust in the police is at a new low. But should the buck stop with the police? On their increasingly dubious record, shouldn t the trust in our government also be at an all time low? Electronic means of surveillance are increasingly available to the government, state agencies and their international allies to monitor and control or manipulate anyone who goes against their interests. But citizens are also making use of digital technologies to expose the dangers and weaknesses in these very systems that monitor and regulate behaviour.

Recent events, such as the Kim Dotcom saga, raise questions about the degree of collusion between the police, government, spy agencies and foreign governments. And other events, like the arrest of Hone Harawira, raise questions about the relationship between the police, politics, and corporate interests.

A new Horizon survey1 shows trust in the police has hit new low.

Public trust in the police has fallen, with overwhelming support for a beefed-up Independent Police Conduct Authority, a survey has found.

What a surprise!

The survey also found that, overall, net trust in the police had fallen 11.5 per cent to 59.9 per cent during the past five years.

Comments in the survey indicate that the fall in public trust centres on the police s management of complaints against its officers, and actions considered heavy-handed, including the Urewera and Dotcom mansion raids.

How ironic that when Dotcom complies with his bail conditions and checks in with the police, he is faced with sign saying that if he txts, his Privacy is Assured!2

The suspicion many of us have, is that electronic surveillance is increasingly being used by, for, or in the interests of the powerful political elites; not just our government, but those of countries like the US. And they sometimes seem to be used for the benefit of powerful corporates, as with Internet copyright issues (Dotcom), and the privatisation of state housing on land wanted for private investors, to create a cafe culture by the sea3 .

But our government, that so frequently thumbs it s nose at democracy, needs to be careful because some ordinary people are watching them. Some of us remember their speech and actions for more than 2 minutes. And some people record them. Using citizen recordings, Campbell Live last night showed the country exactly how slippery and two-faced our PM is. The show broadcast a video recorded in the aftermath of the mine disaster, of John Key pledging4 to do everything in his power to recover the bodies of Pike River miners. Yeah, John, Right! We now know how much he kept that promise!

Along with

  • the leaks from GCSB workers exposing slippery John Key s comments about Dotcom to staff back in February,
  • Paula Bennett s abuse of private information of citizen s critical of government policy,
  • and the MSD s failure to protect private information on their computer systems,

it s not only trust in the police that should be falling, but also trust in our state systems used for monitoring and recording information about citizens, trust in our government, trust in our prime minister, and trust in his ministers.

We are increasingly seeing the dangers of surveillance by untrustworthy authorities and systems, which reveal breaches of privacy, rule for the elites and wealthy corporates, and broken government policies. I m glad some citizens are watching, recording and telling the stories of failures in democracy, social justice and accountability.


  1. ^ Horizon survey (
  2. ^ Privacy is Assured! (
  3. ^ create a cafe culture by the sea (
  4. ^ John Key pledging (

Landowner's security guards prevented strikers from picketing at …


Union members at Salford University were prevented from picketing during a strike because the university leases one of its buildings from a private landowner, it has emerged.

Strikers planning to picket were ordered away from the university’s facilities at the MediaCityUK complex by private security guards.

Martyn Moss, north-west regional official for the University and College Union, which represents college lecturers, said: “Security guards moved our pickets off the public space around the building on the basis that they were trespassing. “Technically, if it’s private property, the law on picketing says that you have to be on the boundary. But that’s one building on a complex with a lot of open space between the buildings, so there’s nowhere to genuinely picket.”

The strikers, who were taking part in the wider day of action over public sector pensions last November, were moved to a tram stop separated from the building they were picketing by tramlines, Moss said.

The action has reinforced concerns that the privatisation of open space is shrinking the area available for protest.

“The right to picket is a fundamental human right in lawful industrial action,” the union organiser said. The university’s facilities at MediaCityUK are used to teach more than 30 undergraduate and postgraduate courses in media skills, and cater for up to 1,500 students.

The complex is run by the Peel Group, a property firm with extensive interests in Britain including 14 shopping centres and four airports.

A spokesman for Salford University referred enquiries to the landowner. He said: “You would have to speak to Peel Holdings, who own the land around our building. The people who did the moving on weren’t our staff. They were Peel security. Our responsibility ends at the door of our building.”