This post will briefly highlight some reports, and also report on the poor show that was dealt to our community in the lead up to the vote on the recommendation to abolish the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee this Summer.
Our community is still deeply affected by the loss of 72 lives in Grenfell and will be for some considerable time to come. This is an everyday reality for us but still it does not appear to have to have sunk into the mindsets of some certain persons in charge of our local authority. Perhaps it’s time for THINK to give them a reminder?
Principles from the Centre For Public Scrutiny Report
Back in March 2018, the Centre for Public Scrutiny put forward a report of recommendations for RBKC, governance in this report they recommended 12 principles that the council should adopt. These were:
1. Connecting with residents
2. Focusing on what matters
3. Listening to many voices
4. Acting with integrity
5. Involving before deciding
6. Communicating what we’re doing
7. Inviting residents to take part
8. Being clearly accountable
9. Responding fairly to everyone’s needs
10. Working as a team
11. Managing responsibly
12. Having the support we need
Many of us question,whether RBKC really has taken all of these on board ? Going particularly on principles 1÷9 it appears not. As for principle 11 – they haven’t exactly managed tbis responsibly. We invite our readers to decide for themselves…..
The full Centre for Public Scrutiny Report is here
For further reading and discourse on this we highly recommend this brilliant and highly in depth blog post from our friends at Urban Dandy here:
Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce Report
This is a mixed report, with both praise and criticism of RBKC ‘s Grenfell Recovery efforts. We invite our readers to decide for themselves here:
And here is the response letter from James Brokenshire, who was then Secretary of State for Housing , Communities and Local Government
There is praise and criticism in different areas and we have quoted both Elizabeth Campbell, Leader of RBKC and Emma Dent Coad, Labour MP for Kensington and RBKC Councillor for Golborne Ward highlighting some points in our Part 2 but here is the view from the ground:
What many of us in the North Kensington community find are problems and issues with communications – a lack of reaching out to our community by some at the council (the phantom residents conference is just another poor example of this) both by the RBKC Communications Team (which have improved just recently ) but foremostly, by the RBKC Grenfell Team – soon to be left to their own devices without being scrutinised properly – who have continuously ignored from day one – the needs of our community. Some senior members of the Grenfell Team, namely Sheila Durr, Director of People and communities and Robyn Fairman, Chief Executive had arrogantly decided that they know more than the community without ever making a real effort to listen to and engage with us.
Some senior councillors do engage with people here but do not appear to fully understand – others simply do not get it . Actually most residents (including us) locally wish for understanding on all sides But the Leader of this council, Elizabeth Campbell seemingly wishes to reach for a fly swatter every rime she meets most residents livng north of Holland Park….
We also have to say to the Taskforce; please drop the “wider community” reference – the community affected is the North Kensington community. There are 7 legally defined North Kensington wards: Notting Dale, St Helen’s, Norland, Colville, Dalgarno, Golborne and Pembridge
The “wider community” term appears to attach Grenfell-related concerns to residents living some distance further away from Grenfell, most of whom with respect, do not live in the immediate community, do not see Grenfell Tower from their neighbourhood let alone home and do not necessarily relate to issues around this locality. But our council appears to spend more time and effort into consulting on Grenfell issues with residents of Royal Hospital Ward or Bronpton and Hans Town Ward just for example – rather than residents in North Kensington wards. Please reconsider this term because it is causing further suffering here.
RBKC Scrutiny Arrangement Report and (controversial) recommendations
The. covering report from Heather Wills, RBKC Director of Governance and Coordination stated “all of the consultation opportunities were widely advertised by email and social media and included the following
– A call for written submissions from residents
– A residents ‘conference to be held on 20 June”
Oh really? Because what we saw on Twitter- on the lines of ” which issues are important to you?” was not made exactly clear to residents what all this was about nor its far reaching consequences.
And as for the residents’ conference – what conference? Because neither us nor anyone we know had sight or sound of it.
Report of Scrutiny Panel (Cllr Greg Hammond – Conservative, Courtfield Ward (panel chair) Cllr Tom Bennett- Conservative, Redcliffe Ward, Cllr Malcolm Spalding – Conservative – Earl’s Court Ward and Cllr Linda Wade – Liberal Democrat, Earl’s Court Ward)
There is a lot for our readers to get through and we will just for now, talk about the abolition of the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee and make some points on this:
The report stated that
“residents attending the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee were attached to the format, but were looking for a range of different effects from different meetings They wanted a regular forum in which to raise “matters of the moment” and get answers on important Grenfell related issues; they wanted to hear directly from the Council’s Leadership Team and relevant officers; they wanted answers from the Government and at previous meetings They wanted to hear from other third parties such as the NHS. Some expressed the view that the councillors on the Committee were a barrier to direct engagement, and some wanted the meeting held in North Kensington”.
Well yes and no actually.
– Third parties such as the NHS and the Police already have appeared in front of other committees and will do so in future committees. It was never an issue in those committees why should it be one in GRSC?
– Yes, the issue of councillors who are politically on the same side as the council for quite a few residents can be a barrier to communications and engagement – residents in social housing and much of North Kensington ignored and dismissed for years and (do we need to state the obvious? ) since Grenfell that has obviously become much worse.
– Of course views will differ around where meetings should be but most people we know wanted to see additional issue specific community meetings in North Kensington and for the GRSC to continue – some people wished for it to be held locally; others preferred the Town Hall. Of course there is confusion – people are traumatised and upset. But it is the council’s responsibility to manage meetings – not ours. This smacks of blaming our community for failure of this local authority in this respect.
We noted this, listed in the principles (report of the Scrutiny Panel- recommendations on the council’s scrutiny arrangements:
“The new system will not have the resources to scrutinise every aspect of the Council’s activity annually, so – in line with the Statutory Guidance- choice will have to made made to ensure that scrutiny delivers work of genuine value and relevance to the wider work of the authority”.
So if we compare this report and the Leadership Team’s decision, with the CfPS and the Taskforce Reports – there are several questions and red flags here with regards to whether the Leadership and senior staff really are taking their duty of responsibility to our community seriously.
We think it is especially important for all to note that the RBKC Grenfell Team, is the only council department with no committee specifically overseeing it as a whole Going back to the Government Taskforce report; this appears to be a large part of where this local authority is failing. So despite some at RBKC claiming that “Grenfell is our number one priority”, inevitably some issues that are important to our community will slip much further down the list – or even disappear entirely.
This recommendation, below – does not exactly say “Grenfell is our number one priority” with Grenfell-related matters being delegated to and scattered around other committees.
Recommendation 11 : That the Overview & Scrutiny Committee be responsible for all Grenfell-related matters, including recovery, and delegate to the relevant Council Select Committees issues where detailed scrutiny is required”
The ball was set rolling for a rather turbulent meeting……
The Administration Committee “show” (or rather what we could stand of it):
The meeting itself had not been publicised by RBKC and it appeared to many that they had intended for it to be this way – the original designated venue for this meeting at the Town Hall had been a tiny committee room! (Changed to the Small Hall eventually after RBKC had noticed that residents had been sharing the information about it on social media.)
We got to a very well attended meeting that was spectacular for all the wrong reasons. Chairing the meeting was David “Dinosaur Dave” Lindsay, Cabinet Member for Family and Children’s Services and Vice chair of this committee.
Cllr Lindsay (the only Cabinet Member to live in view of Grenfell Tower) was clearly struggling in his role to chair the meeting and feeling the heat, ended up numerous times barking (Doberman Dave?!) at residents who were clearly upset and distressed.
Many residents and opposition councillors were also frustrated at the short notice at which RBKC had published the papers (giving residents little time in which to fully respond). Some residents including Yvette Williams and Samia Badani asked for the vote to be deferred – Kim Taylor-Smith refused.
Cllr Lindsay tried to shut down and stop Joe Delaney former resident of the Walkways and the lone resident lay member of the GRSC from asking questions telling him him he could raise only one – so Joe counteracted with “I have one question in ten parts” (the only part of this meeting that anyone found amusing)
Kim Taylor-Smith responded : “too many issues are being brought up to be properly scrutinised” – health, soil contamination
Also present at the committee table were Cllrs Greg Hammond and Tom Bennett – attempting to defend their recommendations.
It was revealed that only 77 members of the public had made responses – 15 who attended a nonexistent consultation at the Town Hall (was this the phantom residents conference?) And 52 in writing. Residents and Labour councillors were incensed by this. RBKC falsely claimed it had contacted the residents associations – contradicted by members of RAs present at the meeting (well the council does have a very out of date and incomplete list- a couple of the chairs of RAs listed on it passed away some time ago). Cllr Hammond said the council had posted on Nextdoor (!) advertising the meeting
Devolution for North Kensington was brought up by Labour councillors and residents – one resident saying that “devolution is fundamental because of the north-south split in the borough”
Labour Cllr Monica Press said that submissions had been made to the panel regarding devolution foe North Kensington but these had been disregarded (so there had been more than 77 responses after all) . David Lindsay responded by saying that it was decided at the full council meeting in May not to proceed with devolution.
As for the new system the council claimed that having 6 scrutiny committees reduced to 4 select (not scrutiny) committees meeting only meeting 6 times a year was not much different to the previous system – who are they kidding? Emma Dent Coad said the select committees will be nothing like the ones in Parliament or the London Assembly.
Yes, quite a lot of the Cabinet and Tory councillors have kept bringing up issues of soil, air and health as reasons for abolishing the GRSC, we’re beginning to think that some have rehearsed their excuses……..
Resident Isis Amlak said how could the council put Grenfell Scrutiny as part of wider Scrutiny when “this community is nowhere near justice. This is thoroughly disrespectful ”
More outraged residents had their say: “who is policing you? Until it is transparent it is never going to work” “You are policing you. We’re going round in circles but now you want to jump off the circle because it’s not working for you”
Before the vote, it was revealed that the Committee had been whipped to vote in favour of the changes so lots of locals attending were even more frustrated as decisions had been made and attending this meeting had been pointless. Pointless indeed – as the points made in both the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Taskforce Report had been ignored as yet again had the views of our local community.
Local North Kensington resident and campaigner Niles Hailstones had gone up to the Committee councillors singing in protest (while they were going through final points) and telling them their consultation was fake.
Security came forward and the Conservative councillors on the Committee did a runner through the back door to vote.
Most of the committee had left and members of our community walked out in disgust – as did the Labour councillors on the Committee – Sina Lari and Pat Mason.
After listening to the few upset residents left in the room trying in vain to make Greg Hammond and Tom Bennett (who stook around ) see the point – we decided we couldn’t and decided to leave too
Some had been at the meeting for longer than us (we found it very difficult) . Here are Urban Dandy with a great account of the meeting:
But we can’t really put too much blame on David Lindsay as he had been thrown in the deep end by our leader, Elizabeth “Dizzy Lizzy” Campbell – she was supposed to have been chairing that particular meeting (some residents there asked where she was) but instead decided it was a good time to take a holiday! Well, most of us, including privately, some on her own side would beg to disagree and will not be looking to save her from her own bad decisions.
Some may like to think that they give as many performances and make excuses as often as they like, but our community is not buying it. Pulling the curtains down on us will not make this all go away. Just because some of us walked out of that meeting in disgust, we will not be walking away from these matters.
Different interpretations of different tunes
So RBKC has taken a very selective approach as to reports seriously, ignoring some recommendations and feedback from both the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce reports, but taking on board the recommendations of an unelected senior member of staff (Heather Wills) and a small group mainly made up of their own councillors and all from the south of the borough the most controversial recommendations of which – the abolition of the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee- will hit residents most in wards that do not vote for them so aside from meetings like this – most of these councillors (Linda Wade excepted) and the cabinet really do not really have to bother themselves too much about our issues so can contentedly ignore us anyway.
For many of us here being at the meeting had been a pointless exercise indeed – as what any of us had to say fell on deaf ears ; the decisions had obviously been made some time ago. When there has been some (not much but some) progress made in this council with relations to our community- this is likely to make things very difficult to say the least.
Mark our words, RBKC: the show of strength from our community against the poor show from yourselves will continue. This will run and run.
(Our thanks go to Urban Dandy and no thanks go to RBKC)