I seriously think Barbara is suffering from a delusional madness. The day started with another long email from the Minister's office informing us that the Minister is complaining that she isn't getting the answers she asked for (mainly because Barbara keeps editing them out of my submissions), and now she wants a write-up of the FPA meeting we had at 10 this morning. The one at which Sir Ken Knight, Jon O'Neill and Dave Sibert actually finally agreed that the current match test doesn't work and the new one will. Which should have been good news, of course, except it drops Barbara into two holes at the same time: first, she'll have to explain to the Minister why she's been telling her more work needs to be done yet here is the FPA itself saying it doesn't (at least not the work that Barbara's been advising), and second, why the FPA is insisting British Standards do a year's work on coming up with a new test foam formula that isn't needed and is different extra work to what Barbara has been advising. Oh dear.
In the meantime, an MP's letter comes in with a letter from an upholsterer attached - clearly drafted by the Skipton Mafia - anticipating our intent to concentrate on the safety problems with the match test, and somehow objecting to it. At the same time, a mysterious organisation has written to Eric Pickles at DCLG trying to get government support for a fire safety campaign. When I study their small print, I see that it is actually the NBF and FIRA once again with yet another scam - sorry, safety assurance/compliance scheme.
[Update, January 2018: FIRA has just announced a new 'compliance scheme' regarding the Furniture Regs. This follows the NBF's similar compliance scheme for bed manufacturers. They are both of course completely unnecessary, not to say misleading. What other compliance does the public require from producers than that they comply with the law? And given that FIRA itself proved that the current match test is all but impossible to comply with, it will be interesting to see how they provide 'compliance' for anyone gullible enough to sign up. Still, these schemes are very profitable for the owners, what with members having to pay to join and to be regularly audited. Here is how FIRA describes the genesis of their new scheme:
"The scheme was developed by the Furniture Industry Association in response to a series of high profile media and enforcement investigations, which culminated in the BBC's 'Fake Britain' programme in January 2014."
First, the enforcement investigations were nothing to do with FIRA. They were commissioned from Trading Standards by BIS (mostly by me). Second, these did not 'culminate' in the Fake Britain programmed; they continued after it and made no reference to it. Third, while Trading Standards' investigations were properly conducted, the tests undertaken on 'Fake Britain' were mostly incorrect, inappropriate and drew the wrong conclusions. Fourth, and crucially, FIRA fails to mention that FIRA itself was actually behind the 'Fake Britain' programme. The motive was to scare the furniture industry - FIRA's own members - into not supporting BIS's new match test. One profitable side-effect of the programme was that lots of FIRA's members were spooked into commissioning loads of extra testing work from - you guessed it - FIRA (which is also a commercial test house). How do I know? Because Phil Reynolds of FIRA phoned me the day after the programme to boast about it.]
As for the FPA . . .
Their brief for the meeting this morning was that they were going to present us with a new test foam specification. We don't need one, of course, since it already exists in the current Regulations - a small point of detail that appears to have escaped them. But Barbara wanted to make them feel good so at the last meeting we had with them she'd agreed that they could present a new formula at this one. Which should have been case closed.
Similarly, they'd refused to present an agenda before this meeting because they said there was no need. On which basis, Steve was told that he wasn't needed.
When I phoned him later, I said, "What's the one thing that didn't appear at the meeting?" He responded immediately: "The test foam formula."
The meeting begins with the FPA making a Power Point presentation which starts with the proposal that BIS should commission British Standards to work on a new test foam formula over a period of 12 months. 'Fast track' they called this, although I'm stumped about how it will take them a year to open the Furniture Regulations and copy out Schedule 5 Part 1 paragraph 3.
Barbara and John say nothing to this nonsense, of course, so I object, reminding them ('them' being Jon O'Neill, Sir Ken Knight and Dave Sibert) that the aim of this meeting was that they would present a formula, not get us to commission work on one (with the result that the new match test will be even further delayed, of course).
Sir Ken becomes aggressive, 'reminding' me that we should have put the new match test through British Standards but didn't. I tell him that in fact we spent two days at British Standards, working on the test with the relevant committee. He tells me I'm lying! He also threatens to walk out of the meeting if I keep contradicting him. I look in his eyes and see the calm gaze of the con man, who knows he's playing a game. Barbara doesn't see this, apparently, since she tells me to keep quiet.
Barbara, predictably, also goes for their claim that they can get 'consensus' on this plan. She loves the word consensus, since it allows her to keep her spine in jelly mode, i.e. because she can claim that unless everyone agrees to a proposal, you can't go ahead with it. Whether there has ever been a change to legislation that everyone - both winners and losers - has agreed to is of course debatable.
Afterwards, I was livid but Barbara didn't want to speak to me. I'm not surprised: she'd just allowed the three FPA amigos to instigate yet another delay to the new match test, and for no good reason. I emailed her instead with a list of the many considerations she'll have to make if British Standards are to undertake this work and managed to catch her later just before she went up to the Minister's office.
In the meantime, I spoke to Steve, and we discussed the meeting as follows:
The FPA/FSF have actually agreed that the current match test doesn't work and the new one will. All they want to do is spend 12 months coming up with a formula that already exists, presumably so they can be seen to be instrumental in the development of a new test, claim the credit and retain status and money from those they work for (like the insurance industry).
The FPA proposed that the new match test could go ahead in two phases:
1) Introduce a fibre wrap layer but with the current (highly flammable PU) test foam
2) Bring in the new test foam later.
Barbara was keen on this - probably because it would allow her various decisions to delay to be off-set somewhat with detail - and was somewhat irritated when I pointed out that this would require two consultations, not to mention considerable inconvenience to industry and confusion for manufacturers, retailers and Trading Standards. And, as Steve pointed out, 1) would also mean a massive increase in flame retardants.
For a while, however, we thought, Why not? When FIRA find out they and the FPA will be at each other's throats, since the basis of all their actions is essentially maintaining a position of power over their members and the furniture fire safety sector. But, as always, we decide to keep things simple and stick to the truth.
If only Barbara did the same. When I spoke to her finally, it was clear delusion has fully taken hold. Here are the two views she's now convinced herself are key:
1) It's the Minister who's creating all the problems because she can't make up her mind. However, she also said the Minister has finished with us; that it's too late. Which to me at least sounds rather like she can in fact make up her mind.
2) Yes, all this stuff we're doing/not doing with the FPA is political but we just have to do it.
She then went off to speak to the Minister's PA. She wouldn't discuss this with me but it's clear that whatever she says to the PA will be a lie. Then again, she's well past that particular tipping point now.
[Update: As I detail elsewhere on this website, the FPA/FSF assumed from Barbara's lack of response following this meeting that BIS had agreed with their 12 months British Standards plan. Indeed, they put it to our Minister Jo Swinson a few months later at a round table meeting. Paul Fuller and Dave Sibert were instrumental in pushing the plan to her at that meeting. Swinson agreed on the basis that it meant the new match test would be implemented by April 2016. However, British Standards never did the extra work (which of course was never needed) and the FPA/FSF/ Paul Fuller/Dave Sibert/Sir Ken Knight etc have done nothing despite all agreeing that the current match test does not work and is putting the public and firefighters at risk. I challenged them about this in November 2017 but have yet to hear a word out of any of them.]