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The UK in 2017: Sinking or Burning?

The spring time terrorist attacks in both London and Manchester along with the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in London’s Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have left a painful and fearful legacy in the UK at present. While the new diminished government barely copes.

The UK Election

The June 2017 General election was premised on Brexit. It aimed to provide Prime Minster Theresa May with a larger majority and a stronger mandate to negotiate a hard line in the Brexit negotiations with the EU which commenced this week. She failed and now her tenure in Number 10 hangs by a thread. A confidence and supply deal agreed has been struck with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP) to provide a small working majority which some in her party find distasteful.

The Brexit deal or the stance of the DUP on parliamentary legislation presented, although much reduced from the election manifesto, could cause her government problems. The SNP may attempt to thwart the Repeal Bill’s passage through parliament by the legislative consent motion (LCM) requiring the consent of devolved administrations over repatriated EU laws. The ascendant Scottish Conservatives also have more influence and concerns over the forthcoming Brexit Bill as Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP wishes for an open Brexit rather than a hard exit from the EU (Guardian, 2017).

Also, LGBTQ issues opposed by the DUP have raised concerns with openly-gay Scottish Secretary David Mundell MP and Davidson MSP. Although Theresa May has given Davidson some reassurances that this won’t transpire. This hopefully will be more reliable than she hoped, for a majority and strong and stable leadership (Telegraph, 2017).

This blog’s prediction for the election result was way off the mark (LDC blog for May 2017). However, the prediction is now for awkward times ahead for No.10 and the UK Brexit negotiators as the more certain guess.


The terrorist attacks, although widely condemned throughout the world, perhaps now seem destined to become part of modern life in western countries. This replays awful similarities with the IRA, Basque, Red Brigade or ETA bombing campaigns in the UK and Europe from the 1970s-1990s. Notably, these despicable atrocities were sometimes accompanied by a warning beforehand.

However, deranged lone wolf attackers are extremely difficult to identify and stop before committing their dreadful atrocities. The opportunist claims by ISIS or other terror groups to claim “credit” for any attacks are deplorable. Consequently, any proposed draconian measures for the public to spy and inform on suspicious neighbours has Orwellian implications for freedom of speech, association and movement. What needs to be done to improve intelligence to thwart these atrocities? It needs local knowledge with communal care and attention with a willingness to help friends, neighbours and colleagues long before they become radicalised, hateful or simply mentally disturbed. No easy task in a busy world.

The unfolding consequences of the Grenfell Tower fire, poor regulation and building procurement.

The residents and local inhabitants of Grenfell Tower in North Kensington demonstrated some genuine kindness and commitment to help other after the recently renovated 1970s tower block ignited like a Roman candle in the early hours of the 14th of June. The final numbers of dead are yet to materialise with 79 killed or missing so far and 65 rescued from an estimate 400-600 residents according to a BBC News report on the 23rd June 2017 (BBC, 2017).

Construction Industry commentators have declared the deaths as tragic and totally avoidable. How a multi-million pound recently renovated building was left without an adequate means of escape, firefighting systems and external cladding which was seemingly flammable is a scandal set to run for years.

The cladding panels have failed a government safety inspection since the fire causing more fear and upheaval. In Camden residents have been evacuated to temporary accommodation for months while building repairs are made to affected buildings in the Chalcots Estate (Evening Standard, 2017).

Reports suggest there will need to be cladding removed from a wide variety of public buildings so far in 76 local authorities throughout the UK which have failed further Building Research Establishment (BRE) safety checks.

What this suggests about the state of public sector building procurement and contracting is dire. This is an utter shameful debacle for the UK construction industry as it will take many years and many millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash to rectify.

The entire process and professional competency in many parts of the construction Industry are clearly inadequate and substandard. The industry is littered with building regulations, codes of practices and health and safety legislation such as the Construction, Design and Management Regulations literally designed to design out hazards like flammable cladding. Clearly, the building regulations need addressing to include fire systems in residential blocks of all types.

However, the plethora of safety management documents required for public sector housing contracts and the professionals producing them should prevent catastrophic occurrences. Are these safety management documents just a pointless paper chase? Is there hands-on supervision of building works and adequate material specification during these contracts-seems unlikely? In Edinburgh 17 new high schools were built, using PFI contracts, that lost their cladding due to high winds and the causes of the failures are reported in a damning independent report (Architect’s Journal, 2017).

Parsimonious building owners or government austerity are one issue and another is an industry obsessed with cost control and budgets without competent design and building supervision.

Somehow in spite of all this UK focussed incompetence the stock market has risen while the pound has fallen. This adjusts for the foreign earnings of FTSE100 and 250 constituent companies. Shall more UK focussed companies fair worse with a weakening pound, slipping UK consumer spending, rising inflation and stagnant wage growth amid political uncertainty? Seems highly likely as combined with the UK’s poor productivity wealth creation is dipping.

It’s time to spend some more borrowed money on housing provision, infrastructure and education in a manner that benefits a declining world power to at least care for its citizens and children without squandering it on the meaningless procurement process.

If we’re going to sink in global prestige let’s not burn money and especially life on inadequate edifices.

The UK can do better but some bold changes and moves are required by competent people. Let those who are not capable either step aside or be made accountable for their failures.


References and Further Reading-

Architect’s Journal; (2017); ”Poor Construction and Lack of Scrutiny Caused Scottish Schools Defects’, by Richard Waite, Emap Publishing Ltd, UK. Website accessed Mon. 26th June 2017:

BBC News Service; (2017), “London Fire: What We Know So Far About Grenfell Tower”, BBC, London, UK. Website accessed: Mon.26th 2017:

Evening Standard; (2017),” Hundreds of Fire Doors’ Were Missing From Tower Blocks Evacuated In Camden,” by Patrick Grafton-Green, Evening Standard, London, UK. Website accessed Mon.26th June 2017:

Guardian; (2017); “ Ruth Davidson Dismisses Reports of Scottish Tory Breakaway,” by Chris Johnston and Anushka Asthana, Guardian News and Media Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: Mon.26th June 0217:

Telegraph; (2017); “Scottish Secretary Urges DUP to Change Its Position on Gay Rights Issues”, by Auslan Cramb, Telegraph media group Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: Mon.26th June 0217:

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