New research from Kent Business School has identified how accounting practices were used to reinforce intolerance towards quality social housing, with little value placed upon human life, in the context of the Grenfell Tower fire. Decisions from these practices were ultimately approved by the Kensington and Chelsea Council.
Researchers uncovered how the austerity and deregulation agenda had a significant impact on building and fire safety regulations, which were ultimately justified by financial criteria.
Social values, especially safety and beauty, were reinterpreted according to economic logic, thereby denying the need for their explicit consideration in social housing decisions.
This research also reveals how successive British governments gave little importance to the impact of aesthetic and ethical qualities of social housing on the well-being of inhabitants.
Accounting practices used in the decisions made by those assembling the financial parameters that determine the design of a building are not unavoidably detrimental, despite accusations of constant prioritisation of profit via poorer quality. Instead, the information provided by accounting is critical in promoting the well-being of society through its influence on what is allowed to be possible in architecture.
Warwick Funnell, Professor of Accounting and Public Sector Accountability at Kent and Co-Author of the paper said: ‘The Grenfell Tower fire exposed the financial and operational visibilities created by accounting practices crucial to the successful implementation of the neoliberal economic logic and financial priorities of successive British governments, irrespective of the consequences.
‘This was tragically evident when the contractor Artelia produced options for replacing zinc cladding with cheaper aluminium composite. The option chosen by the wealthy Kensington and Chelsea Council saved only £293,368, less than 4% of the contract price for the refurbishment, for which the council was accused of being keen “to spruce up Grenfell Tower on the cheap”.
‘The Reynobond PE aluminium panels made by Arconic that were selected had a flammable polyethylene core while a related Reynobond FR fire resistant panel with a mineral core was available for just £5,000 more for the entire building. Arconic had been warned ten years previously of the greater fire risk of the aluminium panels.’
Robert Jupe, Emeritus Professor of Accounting at Kent and Co-Author of the paper said: ‘This research demonstrates how the Grenfell Tower refurbishment was the apotheosis of neoliberalism; a toxic mix of austerity, outsourcing and deregulation. The focus on value for money in the refurbishment led ultimately to the betrayal of life of the residents.’
The paper, The architecture of accounting and the neoliberal betrayal of life, can be accessed here.