The government has been branded “shameful” after it emerged a firm appointed to analyse building safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire was banned from criticising Theresa May.
Under the terms of a contract to look at cladding used on government buildings, engineering company WSP was told it must not create “adverse publicity” about the Cabinet Office or other Crown bodies, according to The Times.
This group of organisations includes the prime minister’s office.
The newspaper said WSP experts were hired 12 days after the Grenfell Tower tragedy on 14 June last year, which killed 72 people and saw Mrs May come in for heavy criticism for her initial response to the disaster.
The £100,000 contract reportedly stated WSP should make sure that neither it nor anyone working for it should “embarrass” or be “in any way connected to material adverse publicity” relating to the Cabinet Office or other Crown bodies.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the revelation of the terms of the contract was “shameful”.
“To save face the government places gagging orders on experts trying to get to the truth of the Grenfell Tower fire,” she tweeted.
Fellow Labour MP David Lammy accused Mrs May of “unforgivable cowardice”, adding: “If you respected the 72 that died, you would have let firms follow the truth wherever it led.”
Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: “Grenfell was a tragedy that should never have happened.
“Rather than gagging experts and prioritising reputational damage, this Conservative government should be doing everything in its power to ensure that it never happens again.”
And the Grenfell United campaign group said: “The focus at every level of government must be to get to the truth about how and why Grenfell happened. No one should be deterred from speaking out.”
An investigation by The Times revealed cabinet ministers had banned 40 charities and more than 300 companies from publicly criticising them, their departments or the prime minister, as part of deals costing the taxpayer £25bn.
But the government stressed such contracts do not stop people from speaking out.
A spokesperson said: “Standard contracts in the public and the private sector contain provisions to protect the commercial interests of government and its suppliers in a reasonable way.
“These contracts do not prevent individuals from campaigning on specific issues, acting as whistleblowers or raising concerns about policy.”
A spokesman for WSP said: “We helped the Cabinet Office’s government property unit understand which types of cladding used across the UK government’s estate are unlikely to comply with building regulations so that the tragedy at Grenfell doesn’t ever happen again.”