Hitchin’s Judi Billing gives Labour conference Grenfell Tower speech
A Hitchin politician who grew up near the site of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe gave an impassioned speech in favour of safety checks and social housing reform at this week’s Labour conference.
Judi Billing, who has represented Hitchin Bearton ward on North Herts District Council since 1980, was seconding the Fire Brigades Union’s Grenfell Tower motion on behalf of the Association of Labour Councillors, of which she is vice-chair.
FBU chief Matt Wrack’s motion on Tuesday, which the conference in Brighton carried unanimously, called for “protection of public safety, decent and safe homes for everyone, and justice for Grenfell” – and called the tower block fire a “crime”.
Herts County Council Labour group leader Ms Billing, speaking directly after Mr Wrack, told how Grenfell Tower was particularly personal for her as she had grown up only streets from where the 24-storey block now stands a burnt-out husk.
“As a tiny child in the 1950s, fire engines called to chimney fires were a daily occurrence and a nightly noise in the crumbling homes of tenants of racketeer landlords,” she said.
“Sometimes people died, but mostly they were saved.
“This June, I simply couldn’t believe that nothing had improved in 60 years – and in fact, given the scale and scope of the devastation, things had clearly got far worse for those in rented social accommodation in 2017.”
Ms Billing saluted the “truly inspirational” efforts of firefighters and other public sector workers amid the Grenfell disaster, and condemned what she called a “totally unacceptable, lax” response by Kensington and Chelsea’s Conservative council – which she said had rejected offers of help from other London councils.
She said: “We need fair funding for local government to ensure vital safety checks are carried out, and we need to recognise the endemic under-investment in social housing – so we must lift all spending caps that prevent local councillors and local councils from building safe, affordable council homes fit for the 21st century.
“The site of Grenfell is close to the difficult place that was my home when I was growing up, so for me this is deeply personal. As a society we must hold those responsible to account, and change society to truly ensure that safe and decent housing is available for the many, and not the few.”
At least 80 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, with more than 70 others injured. A final death toll is not expected before next year. About 255 people survived.