Councillor Kate Lewis, the chair of Salford City Council's Growth and Prosperity Scrutiny Panel, told residents who attended last night's meeting that "We try to make sure there is transparency and accountability..."
However, just 15 minutes of a half an hour agenda devoted to Tower Block Fire Safety, was allowed for residents' questions, to which no adequate answers were given. Meanwhile, there were no microphones and members of the public could barely hear the proceedings.
The most contentious question was by Graeme Langton, of Malus Court, who asked, yet again, why residents have not been allowed to see the Trident Safety Report.
This was an independent safety survey of the high rise blocks commissioned by the Council in the immediate wake of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. It was promised to the Salford Star by the late head of housing, Councillor Paul Longshaw. It was promised to the residents by the Council. But well over a year after it was published, not one copy has been released into the public domain...
"I saw Paul Dennett [City Mayor] last week and he said it's been out for months and it is available for us to read" Graeme told the panel "Why haven't we seen it?"
Deputy Mayor John Merry and Ben Dolan, Strategic Director for Environment and Community Safety, who were taking questions at the panel, looked at each other before Dolan muttered... "I haven't seen the Trident report all the way through; it was an assessment of some of the issues at the time that then was used to put forward a programme of work for the building..."
Graeme persisted: "It was promised a year and a half ago, even Dennett said 'I can't understand why you've not seen it'...Where is it?"
There was no response from either Ben Dolan or John Merry as the meeting moved on. However, for the Strategic Director for Environment and Community Safety...Community Safety!...to admit that he hasn't read the report "all the way through" is absolutely shocking and scandalous. And to withhold it from the community and press is even more shocking and scandalous.
If the Trident report isn't released within the next few days, residents can assume that there is a cover up going on into all the safety issues flagged up in the survey.
Other issues brought up by residents included Freedom of Information requests about the bocks which were not responded to, cracked windows, and a window actually falling out in one of the blocks, to which John Merry confessed he knew nothing about – "write to me with the evidence" he said... "Pendleton Together is aware of the issues – do you not talk to each other?" came the withering response from Graeme.
John Merry was on 'happier' ground talking about the Government's failure to finance the replacement of dangerous cladding on the blocks. As revealed last Friday*, the Government won't allow Salford Council to lend £25million to Pendleton Together Operating Limited (PTOL) to replace the cladding on the Pendleton blocks, and nor will it allow the Council to access its £400million fund to replace cladding, which almost all other councils in the country can access.
"The argument from the Government is that because the PFI is a Private Finance Initiative they felt that us funding it wasn't in accordance with the legislation" he explained "We challenged this because we are lending them money on the basis of a commercial rate of interest. That money has been available since we authorised it through the Council. It's taken three months of arguments and they've wasted our time I'm very angry about it.
"The Government told us that if we were to lend the money to PTOL at a commercial rate of interest they would withdraw PFI credits" he added "They indicted that we could not have access to the £400million unless, effectively, we were prepared to collapse the PFI and the legal advice we've been given is that would not solve the problem...the money we would receive from the Government would simply be to remove and restore the cladding, there would be no money for windows or any of the other issues.
"They have put the narrow interests of finance above our concerns, and the concerns of residents" John Merry argued "In the meantime we have to find the money and that's the first reassurance I want to give; that we will find the money somehow. We are working with PTOL to identify sources of funding that will pay, not only to continue the work but also to do the necessary repairs in there and the sprinklers... I'm confident that in the near future we will be getting some positive announcements."
What is actually going on, legally, behind the scenes with contractor Keepmoat and its sub-contractors, is not being released into the public domain... "We don't want to give indications of our strategy" John Merry explained. Indeed a further item on the agenda of the meeting on 'Contractual Issues' was discussed in secret, or Part 2, of the meeting with the public excluded.
"The work that may or may not have been done correctly by the contractors may be the subject of litigation and may take some considerable time" he added "And we're not prepared to wait for the safety of the residents on the outcome of a court case...People in Plane Court may have noticed photographs being taken because that could be a potential claim against the people who put them [cladding panels] on in the first place but I don't want to go into any detail."
He went on to explain the process in which the contractor gets notice to put the work right but if the company contests it the writs are issued... "That's a process that we are in" he revealed "The issue for us is that it is an issue for PTOL rather than ourselves – our concern is with PTOL trying to resolve these issues."
Earlier, Councillor Robin Garrido had remarked that the "Majority of councils have received assistance, our mistake was going down the route of PFI in the first place, with hindsight" and that "City West has just completed all their blocks, it's just done that and paid for it, so that's something we could get a move on with rather than just waiting."
Residents who attended were angry at both the Government and the Council – they just want the issues resolved as soon as possible – because, meanwhile, they are living in blocks covered in dangerous cladding and blighted by other safety issues...
As the residents left the scrutiny meeting when the agenda moved on, Graeme from Malus Court asked again, "When can we expect the Trident report?"
Ben Dolan again muttered "I will talk to the City Mayor..."
"...We're just been led down a merry path many times and have not got answers", Graeme remarked. And no-one disagreed.
This is Part 1 of a 2 part article, because the other huge issues raised at the Scrutiny Panel was related to the NIBE systems installed in the blocks and is now, said the rep from the Fuel Poverty Action Group, "A matter of national concern..." To read Part 2 - click here...
* For a full background on all the Pendleton high rise issues see last week's Salford Star articles...
Cladding and Widow Safety Scares at Pendleton Blocks – click here
Pendleton Together Tenants Tell of Knives, NIBES, Cladding and Dodgy Windows – click here
Government Blocks Salford Cladding replacement – click here