As tenants living in the nine Pendleton Together blocks owned by Salford City Council worried constantly about delays in removing and replacing dangerous cladding surrounding their flats, behind the scenes was political dithering, official procrastination and worries about share prices on the Irish Stock Exchange.
At yesterday's full meeting of Salford City Council, Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, angrily laid into the Tory Government and its failure to respond quickly to the Hackitt report which concluded that current building regulations were not fit for purpose.
"We've had to wait significant amounts of time to get clarity out of this Government about what cladding systems are classed as permissible" he said "We've not had a response on how the building review is to be taken forward...the legislation is not in place.
"How can we do things quick enough within a context where we have absolutely no clarity both on finance, building regulations and the implementation of the fire safety order?" he asked.
Deputy Mayor, John Merry, added that he had felt "frustrated" when he was denounced at a scrutiny committee for not having spent the £25million the Council had borrowed to lend to Pendleton Together Operating Limited (PTOL) at a commercial rate of interest to do the works...
"At that stage I knew that the situation was that civil servants were telling you, 'You can't spend the money until we've considered whether to give you permission or not', and had spent months deciding that we weren't going to be allowed to spend the money" he explained in answer to a question by Councillor Robin Garrido.
"Now the reason I couldn't say that, and this is quite amusing" he added "I had been warned to be very careful about making statements about the financial status of the company, particularly as one of the investors in that is quoted on the Irish Stock Exchange, so the information I would be giving would be market sensitive to their share price on the stock exchange. I had to be careful about the answer I gave you because I didn't want to affect people's share prices...it's quite important actually..."
Meanwhile, one resident in the tower blocks was sleeping with a bible and praying she'd be able to wake up alive in the morning...All residents asked for was transparency and explanations of why the cladding was (and is) still wrapped around their homes.
"We had to either lend the money to PTOL to do the work or get them to raise the money themselves" Councillor Merry added "We've worked very intensively to put the right conditions in place for the money to be lent and everybody I think on the blocks has welcomed that...
"...but how much easier would it have been if, months earlier, we would have been given a straight forward authorisation by the Government...'Go ahead and lend them the money at a commercial rate of interest; you're not going to suffer, the tax payers aren't going to suffer, the only people who are going to gain are the tenants'" he argued "Quite frankly, I think the Government treated them as pawns in a game..."
Councillor Merry did not explain what the "right conditions" are that have been put in place for PTOL to have raised the money. Nor did the City Mayor or his Deputy make any mention of releasing the Trident report on safety in the blocks, which has been promised to both residents and the Salford Star.*
Earlier in his speech, John Merry had defended contracting the original ultra expensive Pendleton PFI (Private Finance Initiative) under which the £78.7million original capital cost will end up costing over £430million by the time it's finished, paid in part by Government 'credits'**.
Pendleton Together Operating Limited made a gross profit of £5.7million before finance costs, according to its latest accounts. Salford City Council is tied into the PFI agreement with the company until 2042, and under the terms of the contract, the accounts state that the Council makes a monthly payment 'Sufficient to pay bond debt, to include interest and amortisation, operational costs and to provide for shareholder return...'
"It was the only game in town" said John Merry at the full council meeting "I spoke at length with the councillors from that area who said they desperately needed that investment, the tenants lobbied for that investment and eventually we did persuade the Government...I make no apologies for that – I think it was the right decision..."
* For background see previous Salford Star article - Pendleton Together Secures Cladding Funds for Pendleton Blocks - click here
** For full details see previous Salford Star articles – click here and click here
See also previous Salford Star article – Pendleton Together Tenants Tell of Knives NIBEs, Cladding, Dodgy Windows and Holes in the Walls – click here
NB The previous article has been removed as we accept John Merry's explanation that he was referring to a previous regeneration