THE letter from Amanda Baker about the responsibility for the Grenfell Tower disaster (The National, October 31) defends the fire service and points the finger elsewhere. To me it should point at the political philosophy called Thatcherism. As we are about to suffer more of that medicine at the hands of Boris Johnson it is important that we know what its side effects are – in this case from my own experience.

In 1961, the London County Council (LCC) had a very large Architects’ Department. It was known world-wide for its forward-looking work. Scots were involved with it at every level and students, many who became successful later, were attracted to it.

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I worked there in the summer of 1961 in a lowly position to gain experience. We were working on an experimental design for steel-framed high-rise housing which was to be clad with lightweight storey-height panels for speed and economy. We designed ways of integrating such blocks into a street market at ground level.

In the autumn to finish my course I went home to Edinburgh. I later heard that a storey-height prototype when set on fire had produced flames that were as high as the projected block would have been. This was the end of the idea and high-rise blocks continued to be built of concrete. But in due course Thatcher closed the LCC as being a home of the public service ethos, and such invaluable experience as this was lost.

The Grenfell Tower was later built in concrete with concrete cladding, but subsequently fitted with external lightweight panels to improve thermal insulation. The tragic result was foreshadowed by the tests in the LCC which, if known about, might have warned the unfortunate local authority of their folly in using untried and untested techniques.

To blame Thatcherism for this is based on the fact that this philosophy militated against bodies such as trade unions and local authorities (as being not in favour of capitalism and private enterprise) whereas they were necessary protections of the safety of citizens as this example shows.

This came down to a personal level too. Thatcherism was not only against trade unions but their professional counterparts such as architects’ institutes. Fee competition was followed by “employee flexibility”, otherwise known as redundancies, which had not been known in Scotland in architecture since the 1930s. (The city architect was once said to have been against the city employing consultant architects as he had been made redundant by one of them in his youth.) At the middle of my career I was made redundant and afterwards in 1982 had a severe stroke as I worked to rebuild my practice. All these events would not have happened without Thatcherism.

You will be cheered to hear that I am still alive and kicking, and am in a position to add the last chapter. A grandchild, as a student, has done research into Grenfell Tower and his studies seem to point to the free-enterprise cladding being the culprit and the old building being robust and protective of the inhabitants as the fact that it still stands attests. In terms of fire protection, and insulation generally, it seemed to match with my old-fashioned standards. If there had been no extra cladding there would have perhaps been no tragedy.

The local authority would have been ignorant of the building regulation implications and the fire service, without having the paranoid distrust of private enterprise that I suffer from, and could never suspect that the world of commonsense had been abandoned in the name of profit.
Iain WD Forde