GRENFELL, SCRUTINY AND THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT Part 2: Grenfell Committee gets the chop as RBKC lose their heads

(Our thanks to OG for the title picture)

So we look back to July’s Full Council meeting in which the abolition of the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee and other unpopular and unwanted changes in our part of the borough, were voted through, amid booing, heckling and shouting from many unhappy residents.

North Ken residents speak out

At the end of the first part of the meeting ( the “Democracy Hour”, in which local residents address the council), the final resident to speak, North Kensington resident Leearna Oliffe (pictured above) made two separate but relevant points in her speech.

First of all she spoke about Adair Tower, a council block in North Kensington, the tragic double murder of two elderly residents there Back in May, the media frenzy afterwards (which reminded some of the days after Grenfell ) and RBKC failing to provide vulnerable residents there any form of support despite offucers being in full knowledge of the situation. Thankfully Sue Duggins, chair of the newly formed RA there got in touch with the Grenfell NHS Outreach Team and they were on hand to provide much needed support to residents there who had been in need of it

RBKC did not respond until June and them dismissely said that it was a “Police matter” . No referrals to victim support

We’re sadly not surprised by this as RBKC has form over many years, of neglecting the needs of residents in social housing – particularly those in North Kensington (we would be amazed however if Elizabeth “never been in a tower block” Campbell actually had any clue where Adair Tower was).

Leearna : ” I would therefore ask do the council have a policy in place regarding serious incidents that affect residents that has a reference to ensuring their mental and physical welfare is safeguarded? And if not, would you please seriously consider putting this in place as you seriously have a duty of care over your residents. And as this example demonstrates, you are dramatically failing in this ”

Leearna in her second point also referred to RBKC’s Grenfell Recovery and the Government Taskforce Report and asked RBKC for a 6 week legal deferral on the decisions: “The motion which is being considered which would effectively bring an end to Grenfell Scrutiny need to be deferred until such time an effective consultation with the community has been considered. I would remind you that you are here to serve us and we therefore deserve to be considered in any decision. We are no longer prepared to be done to but rather want to be consulted and worked with”

A Rotten Borough response

Then the response from Elizabeth “Dizzy Lizzy” Campbell: “I really hope you feel you’re not being done down”( Residents:”WE ARE”)

Cllr Campbell: “We accept what the Taskforce says and that the bar they have set us is very high”

“We hope to be making progress with the community…..”

Residents:”THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH” “YOU’RE NOT LISTENING”

Dizzy Lizzy: “We think that by improving scrutiny, we will be able to scrutinise the recovery and strategy more carefully. It will be split across all council scrutiny so it will be in our DNA so that all councillors will have to learn from it….”

Residents : “THAT’S RUBBISH!” “WE DON’T WANT IT!” “YOU’RE STILL NOT LISTENING”

Of course Elizabeth Campbell was not at the administration committee meeting (which she was supposed to have been chairing) and Leearna said this was a “very decent respectful request to allow people to read the document before the changes went through” and that most people did not have enough time to consider the changes before voting them through. Leearna – not Dizzy Lizzy – received a huge round of applause.

Elizabeth Campbell finished by disputing the time that residents had to be consulted with as saying “I think you’ve come in at the tail end of it – the consultation was around six to nine months” But she missed a vital point then about the document only being made available for a short time before the administration committee meeting and this full council one, and also what scope of consultations the council undertook.

She also completely ignored Leearna’s questions regarding Adair Tower . So that’s North Kensington residents being ignored again; the tail end of this upside down borough.

And yes, that above screenshot is actually of Cllr Campbell bizarrely smiling while she was giving her response.

Then it was over to Cllr Pat Mason (Leader of the Labour Group)

Dizzy & Co (wrongly think they) know best

Pat Mason (above) said, addressing Elizabeth Campbell, “They (residents) – not you – know best as to what North Kensington needs. You should know that. They know best and you need to shut up!”

Cllr Mason did say that at the admin committee (which he is a member of), he had asked if anyone had read the document, and nobody said they had – appalling.

Pat Mason also is a councillor for Golborne Ward, where Adair Tower is situated, and said that “we (the Labour Golborne councillors) had fought vociferously month after month, year after year to get the council the former TMO and Police to do something about the problems in the block they were found wanting. It’s all on record. This is par for the course. This is not meant to happen in this new era of change at the council”

As for the scrutiny panel recommendations and consultation, he had to say this to Dizzy Lizzy “You’re telling them “you should have read this” or ” you should have understood” They elect us we’re supposed to be representing them. ”

Dizzy Lizzy then went in to make her Leader’s statement: “Tonight I want to speak positively” (pass the sick bag) “I believe the council is listening and not only listening it’s taking action” (Residents: “YOU’RE NOT!” )

Dizzy Lizzy had tried to take credit for the council over the new lease on Wornington College well they had to sign that (that’s thanks to the campaigners and thanks to former Government minister Anne Milton actually) citing this as a positive example of where the council was supposedly listening.

She ran though a list of things including “an extra £18 million for Lancaster West refurbishment and reinstating lifetime tenancies” Good; about time. “We agreed an economic strategy which takes us away from the sleepy borough that residents think we are” (Residents: “YOU ARE!” )

Elizabeth Campbell then deliberately selected more favourable feedback from the Government Taskforce Report stating that the taskforce had praised the council’s rehousing efforts in an unprecedented situation. But said ” the taskforce said the quality of work on homes and the personalisation is unprecendented and unprecedented is where we are. The bar has been set very high. In just 24 months we have been expected to rebuild trust and transform our relationship with our communities ” Residents: “YOU HAVEN’T!”

Dizzy Lizzy: “In my view the timescale was unrealistic. Recovery and trust will take generations. We’re trying to achieve change by giving the community an even greater voice” (Shouting from residents in background) “Scrutiny of the council is being strengthened” (Residents: “IT’S NOT”) “We will be putting our communities first” (Residents: “THIS IS A JOKE” )

Dizzy Lizzy finished by saying that “a new Government is beimg formed as we speak” (cue A LOT of shouting from the gallery!)

Selective community engagement

It had earlier been revealed by Cllr Pat Mason in the meeting that Nabil Choucair who lost 5 members of his family in Grenfell had not been allowed to speak at this meeting – absolutely disgraceful. Cllr Mason made points regarding the council not listening to the community, the bereaved and the survivors who were all against these changes.

Elizabeth Campbell, at one point in the meeting, brandished a letter purporting to be from a resident (just the one who she chooses to listen to?) “I received a letter from a resident this week outlining why Grenfell Scrutiny doesn’t work ” and then read out her own reasons! (She also did not say which ward this “resident” was from). Our “Leader” then said the council had consulted with 348 residents’ associations (we know that’s a fib) and 29 voluntary organisations (we’d like to know which ones and if they are based in RBKC ; she did not say ). Residents in the meeting however, reacted by shouting “YOU BLOODY HAVEN’T!” “YOU NEED THIS TO STOP!”and “THIS IS NONSENSE!”

The Opposition hits back

Citing the Taskforce Report, Emma Dent Coad pointed to ” strategic – weaknesses – which we (the opposition) have been concerned about for some time.” Concerning Grenfell Recovery Strategy , Emma highlighted the report saying “communication hasn’t been effective, a lot of the program has yet to be developed in detail (the report was made only a month before this meeting) the council is struggling to convert a high degree of social capital inta positive force (“social capital” meaning us – the community)”.

Cllr Dent Coad also mentioned senior people turning up at community meetings, making promises and then disappearing (yes we’re unfortunately very familiar with examples of that – both from some council Cabinet Members and from certain members of senior council staff).She finished by saying “we (RBKC) don’t have the leadership we (also RBKC) don’t have the skills and we need to work on our social capital like the Taskforce has said. This is the Royal Borough moving backwards – shame on you”

Cllr Judith Blakeman: “These recommendations are so wrong, I don’t know where to begin!” Scrutiny should focus on what matters most to residents. The themes, at a resident’s conference of 15 people from a population of over 160,000, indicated that what matters most are environmental matters such as litter, car parking, traffic congestion, dog mess – NOT Grenfell, crime, community safety, housing and homelessness – the things that matter most to people in North Kensington.”This is another case of this council wishing to go back to business as usual as soon as possible”

And so does Julie Mills!

Cllr Julie Mills (above) is a Conservative councillor for Norland Ward (in North Kensington, less than 10 minutes walk from Grenfell) ” The reason I’m going to abstain is because I find Recommendation 11 quote difficult to accept both legally, judicially and indeed as an elected member ”

For the benefit of our readers, we’ll just post this again : 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”

“Note the word delegate. Now Mr Mayor, that indicates to me that there are no checks and balances on what the Overview Scrutiny Committee is going to dictate to all the other sub committees and what they will actually scrutinise. I find it quite unpalatable; I think it is probably unlawful. ” I don’t understand why Mrs (Heather) Wills, who is the architect of this, is advising the councillors ”

(Yes – very good point from Julie Mills here – Heather Wills is neither a legal professional nor an elected councillor.)

“We’re told to “suck it and see” that’s unfortunate term Mr Mayor, because believe that a responsible authority shouldn’t suck and see what happens. Either you are statutorily constituted and scrutiny is part of that, or not? What is the statutory status of this council at the moment?” ”

But Julie Mills was not the only Tory rebel, as to the surprise of some, Cllr Malcolm Spalding also abstained.

Mills Vs Rossi

Conservative councillors, Marie-Therese Rossi – former Mayor and chair of this new Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Julie Mills (also a former Mayor) ended up having a disagreement at one point when Cllr Rossi was speaking.

Cllr Rossi : “I’ve heard what you (residents) have all said this evening when you have been crying out when members have been speaking. It is not the case that Grenfell will be forgotten or that we are taking away your voice, that will not happen as long as I am chair of the Overall Scrutiny Committee. As such I will have overall responsibility for Grenfell-related matters and also responsibility for allocating work to the other four select committees, though I have to say to Cllr Mills that I do not see my position as that of a dictator”

Julie Mills then got up and raised a point of order objecting to this .

Present Mayor – Cllr Will Pascall: “Cllr Mills will you please be seated? Cllr Mills!”

Cllr Julie Mills: “Can you correct that for the record? I did not call you a dictator!”

Marie-Therese Rossi: “Ok I would just like to say that the way I would work would be to open up discussions with the other scrutiny chairs and myself” (Hang on a bit – so the councillor responsible for overseeing the new committee arrangements over scrutiny appears to be confused as to whether the four select committees are scrutiny committees or not?!)

Cllr Mills (still standing up): “Can you please withdraw that? I did not call you a dictator!”

At this point amid the disagreement and heckling from residents in the. background, the microphone clearly picked up Mayor Pascall muttering aloud “oh for goodness sake! Sit down!!”

Marie-Therese Rossi: ” I did not say you called me a dictator!”

Mayor Will Pascall: “Please can we calm down?”

Cllr Rossi: ” I think you said something Cllr Mills… no, I tell you what you said – you said “delegate” You didn’t like the word delegate”

At this point even THINKers were becoming confused!

Mayor Pascall: “Councillors, can we move forward please? ”

Cllr Rossi: “I apologise if I have caused you any offence”

Maybe all that Mayoral bling has some sort of effect on them or something?

Let’s try and clear this up: We have quoted what Cllr Mills actually said with regards to dictating and/or delegating above. Cllr Rossi, while seeming to be determined in her new role, appears to be unsure of what exactly the official roles, remits and protocols of the select committees actually are in full detail – and this is no offence to her – so are most people, including us!

Anyway here is some of the rest of what Cllr Rossi (just heard amid much heckling and shouting from residents) had to say regarding her role: “I have to say to all the residents who came to listen to this that my door will always be open. You can come and speak to me or I will come and speak to you. I am very concerned to meet with Grenfell United survivors and also to ask you if you will give me a bit of time. I will ask you to judge me therefore not on what I’m saying tonight, but what I actually do in the weeks and months ahead.”

“One of the reasons we decided to change the scrutiny arrangements was to increase public involvement” Oh really Marie-Therese? Less scrutiny, fewer public committees and meetings and completely ignoring the wishes and protests of survivors, bereaved and North Kensington residents by abolishing the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee equates to greater public involvement? We would be laughing if we weren’t so near to crying. Tellingly, she did not go into any of the other supposed reasons

Linda Wade has her say

Lib Dem Cllr Linda Wade was the lone opposition councillor on the Scrutiny Panel and she had this to say: “In a way the Scrutiny Panel was handed a poisoned chalice. I feel that the problem was it become more review of classification of scrutiny rather than how the Leadership Team could be held to account. More time seemed to be spent on allocating Leadership Team (Cabinet) Members to a reduced amount of scrutiny groups which was in some cases awkward and at other times unsatisfactory whereas the development of a more robust plan to be able have a have more effective scrutiny of the Leadership Team was harder to achieve”.

“At a time when we say we are a listening council, that we seek increased transparency, that we’ve changed our culture; the brief handed to us was in fact, to reduce the number of scrutiny committees and reduce the amount of time that they met – something which appeared to be contrary to the different aspirations of the council to be open, transparent and listening. ”

“The Leadership Team have failed to comprehend the necessity to continue with the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee at this stage. The very issues that are closest to the lives of residents are being fractured into different committees, making it harder for residents to navigate but perhaps easier for the council to administer” “It fails to address the humanity of the situation. It is essential for the credibility of the council that the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee is retained”.

Karaoke performances?

The phrases “every committee should be a Grenfell Scrutiny Committee” and “Grenfell is our number one priority” and its variants have rang out on the Conservative side like some sort of catchy but trite and meaningless pop song on the radio and we had a few repeat performances that evening.

We will try to be fair to Cllr Anne Cyron, her speech wasn’t a bad speech, she is new in her post and at least she is one member of the RBKC Leadership Team who has worked very positively with some members of our community. Her project of a Grenfell Community Assembly is not a bad idea but that in our view should never be considered as an adequate replacement for the GRSC (our leader didn’t get the memo!), but we could really do without endless choruses of “Grenfell is our number one priority” (after hearing several different interpretations of the Taskforce Report that evening) . But other councillors did have “cover versions”…….

Cllr Hamish Adourian: “Every committee now needs to be a Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee “. (Though he did attempt to make some sort of half compromise by suggesting a Grenfell Recovery working group that would supposedly attend this new assembly and give feedback back to the select committees. )

Actually Cllr Adourian (who sits for Earl’s Court Ward but lives in North Kensington) and Cllr Cyron are two Conservatives who have shown some understanding of our area and have positive community relations with some residents here – which made their attempts to defend the indefensible all the more frustrating to listen to.

Carry on, don’t lose your head!

Pictured above, is Cllr Greg Hammond . He was Chair of the Scrutiny Panel that produced the recommendations which included abolishing the GRSC ). Some of the gangway had been cordoned off by security so protesters could not hold up signs behind Cabinet Members anymore, and Cllr Hammond just happened to be in the right (or wrong?) place at the right time! The camera moving well as the sign behind him moving to keep in shot, provided the only light relief in what was a very difficult meeting.

Greg Hammond (who is usually well prepared) wasn’t prepared for the sign behind him, and stumbled at the beginning “I spoke to the councillors when they accepted the offer to give them my views – give me their views on the report” and “we did have residents – erm – erm at the conference” (All 15 of them Greg? We actually think a larger number of residents were laughing at the protest sign “comedy moment” during your speech!)

Interestingly, he did say the consultation on this was 1 month; earlier at this meeting Dizzy Lizzy had said the consultation was 6-9 months! ( make of that what you will but we’d sooner believe him).

Referring to the GRSC he spoke of receiving responses such as ” some felt it was positively harmful and should be abolished as soon as possible – others felt it should stay in perpetuity and these views are incompatible”

Well no prizes for guessing which views the Leadership of our council preferred to listen to and act on – but perhaps some should also know actually quite a few people did feel that the GRSC should stay in place for now and perhaps be subject to review a few years down the line?

A tough call for Greg “Action Man” Hammond, but he made it through defending the indefensible relatively unscathed by heckling residemts (though we’re guessing that he and some of his colleagues may want to change places or draw straws to see who doesn’t get to sit in the back row next time!)

Dizzy Lizzy gets in a tizzy

Referring to the new “Grenfell Community Assembly Cllr Campbell said “Scrutiny is a separate issue” but is it? Because she then right away referred to the Assembly as a “reason to improve scrutiny and to give residents the opportunity to ask questions in a forum which they believe meets their needs”. Make up your mind Dizzy Lizzy! Maybe she couldn’t hear herself think with all the heckling jeering and booing from residents who very much felt the need to retain Grenfell Scrutiny.

Also we noticed this from her earlier on in the meeting when she was demonstrating her considerable knowledge of environmental issues: “improving air quality – that thing to do with the environment” !!

A legal question regarding scrutiny

Pat Mason said “The assembly does not have any formal powers to subpoena anybody” (meaning unlike scrutiny committees) So THINK are wondering if the same is the case with the new Select Committees? If not , this cast a very bad light on the council if they are changing the setup from Scrutiny Committees with these powers. to other committees without. Perhaps someone with more legal knowledge than ourselves can answer this one?

Some thoughts at the end of the night

After the votes for the changes went through, many residents felt angry, others depressed but we will fight this. We will support each other and not let our council get away with kicking the needs of this community into the long grass. Most of us did not vote for the councillors who voted for this.

Many of us see and have always seen Cllr Campbell’s position, given that she served in previous administrations of this council, as a severe obstacle to Grenfell Recovery in the first place,

Looking around the chamber at this meeting , we saw a few dissatisfied looks on some faces of councillors on her own side (and not just at this meeting).

After the revelations in this meeting and in the Admin Committee before of what the the full number of responses from the consultation and the consultation efforts were – we are utterly disgusted and feel cheated.

We do not lay any personal blame for on this on the councillors who sat on the panel and submitted the document (they all sit for wards in the south of the borough some distance from Grenfell and some were “merely following instructions”) .

We do lay considerable blame for this however, at the feet where ultimate decision was taken to do this was – that means Dizzy Lizzy as Leader, the RBKC Leadership Team, some former and also some senior council staff – Heather Wills in particular for their rubbish non-efforts to share this with the community and have meaningful discussions in full regarding the recommendations first, long before these were ever put to a vote and for their conduct in this exercise.

If anyone is deluded enough to imagine abolishing the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee could ever improve things here – we just have to point out again, that RBKC’s Grenfell Team is now the only council department now without a real committee dedicated to overseeing it as a whole. Perhaps someone suitably qualified can also answer our legal question here? Many of us in this community believe RBKC ‘s Grenfell Team to have severe shortcomings and so it appears, do some in the Taskforce, going by the criticisms made in the report.

It doesn’t help the credibility of local democracy if some councillors vote through changes they themselves appear to be confused about.

What most of us in the north of the borough can see coming will be worsening relations between this council and residents, and both a Leadership Team and a Grenfell Team, which is already failing in many respects, further allowed to carry on doing so with many more things going unchecked.

The culture that has long existed at this council that played a part in Grenfell, which undermined us and did not listen to our community still exists – in a more muted and less apparent form and everyone knows that Elizabeth Campbell, who served in RBKC Cabinets pre-Grenfell, was and still is, very much part of that culture. If this council truly wishes to make drastic changes, then it is time to start at the very top. There will be nowhere to hide if the new arrangements descend into shambles – a real possibility when some are confused as to what they actually are and do – Grenfell Recovery falls by the wayside and the next Taskforce Report recognises this. The early signs are not good – not good for our North Kensington community, not good for local democracy and not good for the borough as a whole.

7 thoughts on “GRENFELL, SCRUTINY AND THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT Part 2: Grenfell Committee gets the chop as RBKC lose their heads”

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