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Editor’s comment: Privatisation means lack of accountability

PUBLISHED: 15:30 04 October 2017

Burbage House cladding still needs to be replaced. Picture: EMMA BARTHOLOMEW

Burbage House cladding still needs to be replaced. Picture: EMMA BARTHOLOMEW

Emma Bartholomew

It took Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association a week to respond to our questions about Burbage House.

We asked how long it would take for the cladding to be replaced. We asked about the ground floor flat whose fire alarm was “turned off at the mains” for eight months. We asked about the lifts.

When ISHA finally replied, it told us simply that “customer safety” was its “highest priority” and said it had written to people and held meetings to keep them updated. Not all that updated, to be fair, since none of the “customers” the Gazette spoke to knew how long it would take to remove or replace the cladding, either.

It is now getting on for four months since Grenfell Tower burned down, killing upwards of 80 people. While the horror of what happened in Kensington doesn’t make it any more likely fires will break out elsewhere, and ISHA has appointed wardens to patrol for 12 hours a night just in case they do, its inability to give a straight answer doesn’t exactly inspire confidence around its general effectiveness.

I hoped Grenfell would be a game-changer for those like ISHA providing (to a greater or lesser extent) affordable housing. But so far the west London inferno does not exactly seem to have put the wind up the ISHA.

I saw Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle on Monday – a thoroughly depressing but essential watch that unpicks the many injustices wrought by the privatisation of council housing. One of those is the lack of accountability that comes when businesses, not town halls, are put in charge of social homes.

And sure, unlike some of the organisations in that film, ISHA did respond to our questions – eventually. But it wouldn’t be true to say it had actually answered them.

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