Social inequality was the most serious threat to the democratic fabric of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC). It stood for years as the precondition for the preservation of the wealthy south of the borough.
Yesterday’s report by the Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce politely stated that ‘In many ways RBKC was a broken organisation in the autumn of 2017. It has repaired itself, and in some areas, it functions well. However, it is still some distance from being a high performing organisation that has the confidence of many of its residents in the north of the borough most affected by the tragedy. We hope to be proved wrong, but we are unconvinced that the current pace of change will achieve this in the foreseeable future. We are in agreement with most of this statement apart from any hope that they will be proved wrong.
At the administration committee on Monday evening, this preservation was seen in its ugliest form; embedded at the centre of a new borough constitution.
The horror of what happened at Grenfell tower continues to hang heavily over North Kensington. The above precondition has a hand in what happened there. The old leadership of the council ‘resigned’ and a ‘new’ leadership gave plaudits to themselves about how they had changed and how they relished future working the local community and had developed ‘new’ ears to listen and learn from us.
In reality, this should not have been something new. In a democratic society, all public institutions should reflect the diversity of those they serve; where this isn’t the case, good practice should enable all voices to be heard; effective community engagement is a dialogue not a monologue. It is about participation not domination; it’s about humanity, fairness, transparency, the list is not exhaustive.
The new proposed constitution was available on the council’s website 5 days before the meeting. The size of the document easily rivalled that of novel war and peace! The community was expected to digest and analyse it with in this time. RBKC asserted that the constitution had gone out for consultation; where? On the website; to whom? Resident Associations (RA) – three resident association representatives present at the meeting stated they had not been contacted. Could RBKC provide the list of RA’s that they had contacted – no definitive list was produced to evidence this. There had been a public meeting to consult – how many attended? Fifteen! Due to the small number of attendees no breakdown of their diversity was collated.
In August 2017, we met the then new CEO, Barry Quirk to the urgent need for quality community engagement and communication. One of the issues raised was the need for documents in particular complex documents to have plain English and to even consider getting a crystal mark for council documents. These have never materialised; further to this no Easy read documents are produced, crucial documents are not translated into community languages; there are no BSL signers present at council meetings. This gives a clearer picture of who they don’t want to consult, communicate or engage with.
The question that remains the elephant in the room is why are RBKC rushing this constitution change through. Well, at the heart of the proposed changes is their need to remove the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee. The committee set up in the aftermath of the Fire. Why we asked because the work that it does can be subsumed into four other committees – housing, adult and social care ………..
RBKC’s second response is that the GRSC is not effective. Why? They gave two reasons – one was the ‘community’ didn’t conduct itself in a manner that enabled ‘their’ business to be conducted. The second was more alarming – they wanted government ministers to attend the scrutiny committee to discuss Grenfell related issues, but alluded that were somewhat frightened to attend because we, yes we the residents posed some kind of threat! Unbelievable
We have asked for a deferral before adopting the new constitution – RBKC chose to ignore this and the Leadership meeting on the 24thJuly 2019 will, no doubt, rubber stamp it.
We search the RBKC website for an equality impact assessment that should have been done alongside this huge constructional change. We cannot find it.
After the worst disaster since world war 2, RBKC was in a position to effect real change and listen to its residents, they had the opportunity to try new and innovative ways of consulting and engaging its diverse community, they could have become an exemplar model of how a Local authority can be run when you effectively work iin partnership. Rather than take the road less travelled, they are content and secure to continue business as usual. Shame on them.
The outstanding question is who is holding RBKC to account? Or to coin a latin phrase, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who is guarding the guards, who is watching the watchers? Or will they be allowed to continue to widen the gap of social inequality in the borough.
They had year of practice.