Strengthening cable standards must be a priority for the new Housing Minister

Speaking as an entrepreneur and CEO of cable manufacturer Tratos UK, there are certain economic, social and cultural factors that attract me to Britain as a place to grow my business. The rule of law, a strong supply of skills, democratic rights and balanced market regulation - all make this nation an appealing place to invest. But for me, operating at the heart of the cable industry, what matters most is the country’s rich history of manufacturing quality products.

This is a history that I have a personal commitment to championing in a modern 21st century world – ensuring that standards remain high so products are safe. However, in a globalised market – with standards differing from country to country – increased competition can drive down price and standards can slip, all at the expense of public safety.

The evidence across the cable market reinforces this.  According to the Local Authority Building Control, more than 27% of all electrical fires are attributable to faulty wire and cables.

A related concern is that current regulation is not being sufficiently well enforced. For example, in October 2017 the BBC published evidence from an investigation it carried out which exposed the fact that a now-defunct Turkish cable manufacturer, Atlas Kablo, sold 11 million metres of sub-standard cable to the UK.

The Health and Safety Executive, which labours under severe resource restrictions, decided against a compulsory recall of all 11 million metres of that cable. Consequently, so far only 7 million metres has actually been recovered – posing a real fire safety threat in cases where that cable is still being used.

Even where cable regulation is properly enforced, the standards are weak. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is responsible for stipulating which class of cables should be used for buildings, but they have yet to decide this – and consequently, by default, cables in the UK only have to achieve a classification (Euro Class E) that requires minimum standards for reacting to fire. This means that flames can spread through a cable covering 3 to 4 metres in just over seven minutes, and aren’t required to be tested by notified bodies.

And so following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, a disaster which stunned the nation with a shocking failure in building safety, I decided it was time to take action, and to campaign for a level playing field in the cable market to ensure standards are strengthened to improve fire safety.

The Safer Structures Campaign – a campaign seeking to raise cable standards across the UK – was then born. The campaign brings together those supporting strengthened cable standards and better fire safety from across industry, and wants to work with the UK Government to introduce a higher minimum standard of cable classification, equivalent to Euro Class Cca, to ensure a limited fire growth rate from cables in an emergency, giving people more time to exit buildings, and ultimately helping to increase public safety.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review of building regulations and fire safety is an important step forward, and we welcome its overarching recommendation. However we are extremely concerned that it made no mention of the regulation of cables and fire safety, despite evidence that existing regulation is weak.

So now all eyes turn to Kit Malthouse MP, the new Housing Minister, who is responsible for building safety – including the Government’s response to Hackitt – and he should be bold and brave when it comes to introducing new regulation. Britain has the opportunity to prove itself as a leader in building standards and fire safety on a world stage, and introducing a higher minimum standard of cables would be a positive start and a quick domestic policy win for the Government. As an immediate first step the Government should consult with industry on the matter – the time for change is now, public safety cannot wait. 

Dr Maurizio Bragagni, Chair, Safer Structures Campaign, and CEO, Tratos UK

This article was first published in Inside Housing magazine on 26 July 2018.