CONCERNS have been raised over the safety of buildings across the county after worrying data revealed a record-low of safety checks were carried out over the last year.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service completed 1,418 fire safety audits on buildings in 2019/20 – the lowest number since comparable records began 10 years ago.

The data also shows that over 200 fewer visits were carried out over that period compared to 2018/19 with 2,101 checks - over 600 more - carried out in 2017/18.

The picture in Lancashire is one reflected nationally, with inspections hitting a record low across England last year, prompting the Fire Brigades Union to warn that the scale of the building safety crisis is ‘beyond all current comprehension’.

However it is understood that LFRS is investing in the area to ensure future services are fit for purpose.

Firefighters conduct audits on most public buildings and the shared areas of residential properties such as flats to make sure they are in line with safety laws. Buildings tested include care homes, hospitals and high-rises, as well as schools and shops.

The service’s Chief Fire Officer Justin Johnston added: “A decade of austerity has meant overall, the service has taken a real cut. That’s around a 28.5 per cent cut in real terms over the last decade, and all areas of the service have had to pick up the cost of that. That means nationally there have been around 21 per cent fewer whole time firefighters to carry out those kinds of activities.”

Of the audits undertaken across the county last year, 76 per cent resulted in an unsatisfactory rating, with crews issuing 968 informal notifications to premises that had failed an audit.

If informal notifications fail, they can take tougher action and Lancashire crews handed out 110 enforcement notices – formal warnings that a building breaches the law.

Prohibition notices, ordering access to a building to be restricted or for it to be closed altogether, were issued on 42 occasions.

Mark Hutton, Group Manager for protection said: “Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service operates a risk-based approach to inspection activities. The number and proportion of enforcement and prohibition notices issued in 2019/20 signals both effective targeting of highly trained inspectors and the high value placed on this vital area of risk reduction.

“Notwithstanding this, there is absolutely no room for complacency and in order to improve we are now investing in this area to ensure future services are fit for purpose and meet the needs of an increasingly complex regulatory and built environment.

“This involves the creation of additional inspecting officer roles and further specialist training for both fire safety inspecting officers and operational crews. These measures will see a significant uplift in both the number and depth of fire safety checks and audits undertaken. As ever, regulatory work will continue to be supported with business safety advice to ensure that businesses and building managers seeking to comply with the regulations are able to do so to a high standard.”

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said more than a decade of government cuts had led to preventative work being slashed. He said: “The Grenfell Tower fire exposed the shameful state of building safety in the UK. The scale of the building safety crisis is beyond all current comprehension – and firefighters have a crucial role to play in tackling it.”

Mr Wrack said the union supports the Government’s new bills on fire safety and building safety, which aim to expand firefighters’ prevention and protection work.

“But to be effective, the fire and rescue service must be properly funded,” he added. “As things stand, the Government is trying to do public safety on the cheap.”