A Grenfell task force says it’s concerned that change at the council is still far too slow
Concerns have been raised about the pace of change, culture and quality of relationships Kensington and Chelsea Council has with those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
A task force, brought in by the government after the fatal fire nearly three years ago, said it was pleased that the council has made progress but said some residents and community groups said they their reception was “ill-considered or brusque”.
However, its fifth report – released just as councils throughout the country face their biggest test since Grenfell – said things were still not happening fast enough.
The task force team which comprises of Aftab Chughtai, who chairs independent advisers to West Midlands police, Barnado’s chief executive Javed Khan, former Wiltshire council leader, Baroness Jane Scott and former councils housing director, Chris Wood, said more needs to be done.
“We remain concerned about the pace of change; the culture across the council; and the quality of the relationship with the bereaved and survivors and the wider affected community. Consequently, we remain unable to give you unequivocal assurance that RBKC is effectively delivering a recovery for the bereaved and survivors and the wider community in north Kensington.”
And they said: “We have noticed that the ‘law of diminishing returns’ has now come into play. After two-and-a-half years the support and challenge we provide to RBKC is sometimes welcome and sometimes not.”
Their report found:
*There’s been an improvement in clear written operational plans – but plans vary in quality
*Progress in developing “a convincing” housing policy which was praised for its ambition, including building 600 new homes – but “painfully slow” rehousing of last few households with complex issues, who were made homeless by the fire
There was still one household in a hotel, with six households in temporary homes and 194 of the 201 families now in permanent new homes, according to the latest figures
*A review of communications – with targeted information for the north Kensington community around Grenfell
*Better management of Grenfell recovery with “substantial improvement” since last summer
*”Growing self awareness” of the council’s abilities – but called for more assurances that staff are supported and leaders are looking at stability at the council after “a lot of churn” recently
*Addressing the hostility and distrust some residents feel.
*It welcomed the new community assemblies, Grenfell project days and new community officers.
*However the commissioners said: “This issue has not been addressed with the urgency that we had hoped. The relationship with the wider community, by now, should be stronger than it currently appears to be. We continue to hear reports from community groups and individuals of cases where their reception by the council is either ill-considered or brusque.”
*The task force said their concerns “are about the culture of the council as a whole specifically and the ability of councillors and staff to make the most of every interaction.”
* It welcomed beefed up systems to “drive delivery” of services, with a monthly board meeting keeping an eye on progress and new senior posts in housing, communities, Grenfell partnerships, social investment, and planning and place.
However the task force said “Too often we have seen milestones being put back or taking longer than planned to deliver and the council putting forward reasons why it cannot do something rather than what it will do.”
They called on council bosses to change this “can’t do” approach.
“We would urge greater challenge from the senior Leadership where a “can’t do” attitude is expressed.
*The task force criticised the “unpopular” move to end the Grenfell recovery scrutiny committee in July and share its role of holding the council to account amongst its select committees.
The council also set up Grenfell assemblies in its place in north Kensington and the first one discussed health issues.
The task force team said: “We consider it was premature to remove the specific Grenfell Scrutiny committee and embed scrutiny of Grenfell Recovery in other Scrutiny select committees.
“ It would have been better to make sure the Public Assemblies were well established before changing the Grenfell Scrutiny arrangements.”
Nabil Choucair who lost six family members in the fire and begged the council not to scrap the dedicated committee said: “One of the worst things they have ever done is getting rid of the scrutiny committee. That was something for everybody to look at and scrutinise everything.”
Mr Choucair has campaigned together with other bereaved and survivors for improved fire safety measures after his mother Sirria, sister Nadia, brother-in-law Bassem and his three young nieces Mierna, Fatima and Zainab, died on the 22nd floor of Grenfell Tower.
Resident Joe Delaney, who sat on the Grenfell recovery scrutiny committee said “The council continues to demand being judged for intentions rather than actions.”
The task force put the quality of leadership under the microscope and said change is a “difficult, challenging and long-term goal”. It urged the authority to keep its foot on the pedal.
The council’s deputy leader Kim Taylor Smith, who is lead member for Grenfell and housing said: “We are pleased to see that the progress against all recommendations has been recognised.”
He said the task force had noted that the council is setting its own bar very high.
He acknowledged that the task force was concerned about the pace of change and added: “It is important to stress that the Council is making progress right across the board. We are improving all services, not just the Grenfell recovery effort and officers are currently doing a superb job, working with communities, on our response to the Covid 19 challenge.”
Kensington’s Conservative MP, Felicity Buchan, said she would be closely monitoring developments and holding the council to account.
She said the task force found that the council had made progress “across the board, in particular on housing strategy.”
But she said: “Some challenges remain, inevitably with regard to improving relationships with the wider community given the scale of the tragedy.”
Ms Buchan said the Grenfell Projects Fund days held this winter where the community voted to distribute council cash for projects was a good example of new ways the authority “is working with and empowering the local community”.
The Labour opposition said; “Almost three years since the tragedy, the Independent Grenfell Taskforce has assessed that RBKC is still not delivering a recovery that befits the needs of the bereaved, survivors and the wider community in North Kensington. The report, which includes comments on its revised governance and scrutiny arrangements, states the process continues with ‘uncertainty’, ‘disappointment’ and ‘missed opportunities’.”
And opposition leader Pat Mason said: “‘In the context of this fifth damning report, we are seriously concerned about the council’s ability to respond adequately to the Major Covid-19 Emergency the government has declared.”
Yvette Williams from campaigning group Justice 4 Grenfell, said more needs to be done and a change in thinking is still needed.
“This will never happen with just a suite of new written policies and governance arrangements; real change and a faster pace will only happen when the leadership has the personal and political will to do so.”
She added: “The goal is to change what they think about and how they value our community.”