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Why has Government been so slow to tackle the cladding scandal?

Leading cladding expert and former government advisor Steve Underwood passes a critical eye over the Government's attempts to sort it out.

Steve Underwood

cladding crisis underwood

It’s just been announced that ministers are considering a huge bailout package for leaseholders hit by what many are now calling the cladding scandal.

A step in the right direction? Undoubtedly. A means to an end? I’m less hopeful.

The truth is that we’ve heard it all before. Around this time last year the Government announced it would commit £1bn through a Building Safety Fund, but almost 12 months on and little progress has been made.

Given the scale of the task at hand, £1bn barely scratches the surface. Why it’s taken Whitehall almost 12 months to recognise this is anybody’s guess.

Indications are that the Building Safety Fund covers around 20-30% of project costs, costs which appear on the monthly bills of occupiers in the form of service costs and section 20 charges.

Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No. Those who have profited need to step forward, and fast. Private indemnity lawyers are immersed in the fine print, developers continue to suck money from their SPVs, builders have built out and got out.

Politicans and pressure groups demonstrate a painful knowledge gap when it comes to the timescales and the nuances involved in a project of this scale. Add to that uncertain funding routes and a shortage of qualified contractors and you’ve got yourself a nasty cocktail of inaction.

Rushed

The initial bids for funding have, through necessity (i.e meeting government deadlines), been rushed. Consequently, after a more appropriate level of investigation and the real scope of works identified, costs have ballooned often by a factor of four.

Agents get stuck in the middle as they juggle the interests of stakeholders whilst attempting to find a solution. Who do they turn to? They’re not exactly spoilt for choice.

Contractors, despite their contribution to this national catastrophe, shift the blame onto others and go missing after the slightest of scrutiny. Trade contractors don’t have the expertise or resource to do the job at scale. We’re proud to say that we’ve recently launched a cladding remediation arm which addresses those problems.

Believe it or not, parallels between the cladding crisis and the Covid pandemic are close. The industry is chronically short of expertise and resources, the demand is acute, but unlike Covid there is no seemingly bottomless pit of money.

Progess can be made, and it will be. We just need more sensible and realistic solutions. Clear legislative direction encompassed in the Building Safety Act, accelerated training and qualification of Fire Engineers and time for the industry to build competent supply chains are to my mind, crucial next steps.

Steve Underwood is COO of Colmore Tang which is helping building owners to replace cladding at scale and speed.

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