Firefighters union calls for renationalization of Building Research Establishment

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The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has demanded the renationalisation of the Building Research Establishment (BRE). A motion on the issue was passed at the union’s recent annual conference, which is the first in-person conference the organization has hosted since the pandemic took hold.

FBU says private ownership of BRE realized ‘competence lapses’ and saw the organization ‘go too far to please corporate clients’ whose products it tested and ‘relyed on’ for revenue .

BRE is involved in the testing and certification of materials for the construction industry and was responsible for testing many of the key materials used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, including cladding and insulation materials, in addition to carry out fire safety tests.

BRE was privatized in 1997 and continues to test building materials as a private company.

In the petition, the union describes this privatization as a “disastrous decision, opening the testing regime to commercial pressures and commercial interests”. In addition, the FBU asserts that renationalization “would ensure greater accountability, including a clear obligation [for the BRE] act in the public interest and without pressure from business and commercial interests”.

Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry

In its submissions to the Grenfell Tower public inquiry, the union has previously expressed the view that ‘errors and oversights’ at the BRE ‘contributed’ to the Grenfell Tower fire, and that the BRE tests have enabled manufacturing companies to persuade others that their products complied with regulations. According to the FBU, these “errors and oversights” were caused – at least in part – by the fact that the BRE is privately owned.

Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, commented: “The private ownership of the Building Research Establishment has been a complete disaster. Corners have been cut and building safety compromised as the BRE bows to the building materials companies paying its wages. There is even information to suggest that BRE failures may have played a role in [the] Grenfell [disaster]. It’s time to end this total mess now.

The Annual Conference motion states that: “Oversight of this restored public testing and research facility should be [conducted] by a council which is representative of tenants and residents, local and national government and trade unions representing workers in the fire and rescue services and the construction industry.

In its entirety, the Annual Conference motion reads:

Building Research Institution – Public Property

“The Grenfell Tower disaster revealed multiple failings in the UK building safety regime, including in the development, testing and certification of materials for the construction industry. The privatization of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) has been exposed as a disastrous move, opening up the testing regime to commercial pressures and commercial interests.

“The conference directs the Executive Council to press for the BRE to return to full public ownership. This will ensure greater accountability, including a clear obligation to act in the public interest and without pressure from business and commercial interests.

“Oversight of this restored public testing and research facility should be [conducted] by a council which is representative of tenants and residents, local and national government and trade unions representing workers in the fire and rescue services and the construction industry.

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