RBKC appears to be even further away from good relations with many residents, particularly in North Kensington, then they were last Summer. But some may wonder what exactly is going further wrong?
Our friends at Urban Dandy have some further light to shed on matters here
Communications in RBKC exist on a much larger scale than ever before , both in the form of public relations and advertising and also supposedly in “resident engagement” though many of us would quesion what level of actual meaningful engagement with our communities really has been underaken and just how much the council is listening, as well as disputing the fairness of some of the consultations with us that RBKC has undergone. Let THINK lift the curtains and put the spotlight on some of the “stars of the show”……
RBKC Chief Executive Barry Quirk was appointed in the aftermath of Grenfell and is paid a whopping salary of over £200K
Dr Quirk also appears to be partly responsible for the new wave of appointments of senior council officers and their teams – we call them “the Suits” – made since then.
There seem to be more of these suits than ever before , all of whom will come at a greater financial cost through us paying more council tax and higher rents and service charges than ever before – and then they pay for extra PR to try to sell this to us; though most of us are not buying it. They tell us it’s to pay for Grenfell Recovery but many of us question that and just how much in North Kensington is the council really doing.
Perhaps “Bookworm Barry” who usually has his head in a book – just assumes local residents are a bunch of “dummies” who won’t be questioning this? Let’s provide him with some extra reading material then:
Some residents had thought that RBKC Executive of the Grenfell Team, Robyn “Dobbin” Fairman, had left our borough and gone off on her hobby horse.
But perhaps not, because in a recent shameful edtion of “Housing Matters” that we blogged about here, she has a foreword and is described as “Executive Director for Housing and Social Investment”.
Dobbin has featured in our blog elsewhere before – here. Dr Fairman came to RBKC from Lewisham, where she was previously “Head of Strategy” where – you guessed it- Bookworm Barry was previously Chief Executive before he came to us!
Given that Lewisham has had several controversial regeneration projects going on , some people questioned whether her appointment here was such a good idea, considering that regeneration was the reason for Grenfell Tower refurbishment, and before the fire, North Kensington residents were facing the loss of much of our social housing, plus our college and many of our local community facilities.
Dobbin has made her attitude clear to most North Kensington residents outside Lancaster West Estate by either completely ignoring them or treating them with arrogance and contempt.
Nick Price-Thompson is RBKC Head of Communications. He came here after his predecessor Michael Clarke departed having caused nuch so distress and offence to so many in North Kensington while was in the job, Here is a example of this, and his alleged racist comments, briefly mentioned here are another.
But what changes have we seen since Nick “Tigger” Price-Thompson has taken charge? Well not a great deal, though he is an improvement on Clarke (but then again, almost anyone would be).
Royal Borough newspaper is still going, along with countless other more recent council publications either in paper form or via email. We could be here all day listing them, but these include “K & C Life”, “North Ken News” and “Housing Matters” to name but a few.
There are so many magazines and newspapers that it is confusing people, but Tigger and his Comms Team colleagues do not listen to residents telling them this and that they are getting fed up of receiving so many of these.
A lot of important information gets left out of most of these publcations, many tenants and leaseholders do not even know who their housing officers and staff in charge of where they live are, details and dates of meetings are not usually shared in them, and neither is any sort of basic help directory for useful things like recycling services and free and discounted rubbish collections for example (though they probably have their hands full disposing of all the unread extra magazines!) Services, activities and help at community centres outside The Curve , such as what is on at Henry Dickens Community Centre or on at the SPACE for example, does not get published in these.
Nick Price-Thompson apparently receives an allowance of £142, 970 for his “work” and he goes on social media quite a bit too, but we didn’t see too much effort from the RBKC Comms Team into promoting this (actually very good) consultation on planning policy, so THINK put the word out and shared instead – at no cost to the taxpayer at all!
We have posted about Kirsty Tobin before –here
Kirsty is both Head of content, channels and digital and also Head of Grenfell Communications at RBKC.
Soon, after that blog post was out, Ms Tobin came up to one of us after the last RBKC Leadership Team meeting and had a few words.
Our THINKer asked her why most residents were umaware of the last “Grenfell Community Assembly” and Ms Tobin blamed the delivery company for not ensuring all North Kensington residents had leaflets. She asked us to get in touch with her if this is a problem again: fine we will do, but we doubt that whether this will make nuch difference, because this has not been the first time this has happened and probably won’t be the last and know that Kirsty and her colleagues often fail on a basic communication essential – namely listening.
We did ask her why there had been ZERO council publicity for this Grenfell soil and environment meeting – but she did not respond.
Yes they make a habit of this, most residents were completely unaware of the meeting before our blog publicised it, and we still are in the dark as to who thought that putting it on at a time when most of the affected local population were at work was a good idea…
Grenfell? Comnunications? Where is our money going exactly? Forgive us for banging our heads against a brick wall.
Ladies and gemtlemen, take a deep breath, because here are two other “suits” who are supposed to engage with residents and our communities for a living;
Meet Lorna Hughes (most of us haven’t!) She is “Comnunities Lead” at the Community Engagement team at RBKC.
This is how she describes herself on her LinkedIn profile: “A passionate change maker committed to improving public and social spheres. After many years working in community development activities my goals remain the same to contribute to a fair and just society that values every individual. ”
Let’s just remind Lorna of what our council thinks is a “Full List of Residents’ Associations” here
Well it doesn’t look like the (far larger) list of RAs omitted from the list are valued by the council very much, does it?
Ms Hughes has been in her position for a year, which really ought to be more than enough time to correct this.
THINK will show her this blog post , and also point out that the list does not appear to differentiate between local area groups and residents’ groups, so we will enlighten her; people who live anywhere who merely take an interest in the locality can join a local area group and only residents living in the specific place can join a residents’ association, group or compact . This RBKC mistake basically means that there are people living in other parts of the world receiving more council communications and even in a few cases, having more of a say on local matters than some people who actually live here!
Local community campaign groups, like Westway 23, Friends of North Kensington Library and Save Wornington College play a vital role in Grenfell Recovery in North Kensington – but this is also being ignored . We suggest that Lorna Hughes also reads the Urban Dandy post – and that she pays special attention to what local campaigners have to say so here it is again
THINKers also happen to be very active community campaigners and local residents and we have never met Lorna, received any written communications from her or indeed ever recall seeing her at meetings – the same goes for many other local residents.
Seriously, who ever heard of a Head of Community Engagement who does not engage with most of the community?
Meet Iago Griffith. He is “Head of Community Investment” at RBKC.
We have posted about the Tenants’ Consultative Committee before. After the meeting, that some of us gatecrashed, another branch for residents in social housing without RAs was set up – now known as the “Homes Group”.
This was long before Iago Griffith arrived here, but most tenants and leaseholders are still unaware that the TCC exists. Iago has sent out papers to TCC members, but nothing in the way of notifying others in social housing of TCC meetings so they can take part too.
A small minority of individual residents and a couple of RAs at some of these meetings appear to be favoured by the council above others for some reason and we have received some complaints – with some fingers pointing in Iago’s direction for RBKC not dealing with this. Perhaps he is somehow partly trying to live up to his Shakespearean namesake by stirring up jealousy and resentment among residents? It seems that “divide and rule” may still be the order of the day with some.
But we’re not convinced by him either and we will let residents concerned about the level of real meaningful engagement from Iago know what his job before he came to RBKC was: Neighbourhood Regeneration Officer at Lambeth!
“Community Investment” is supposed to mean us – residents – and our true value to the community. But anyone looking at what has happened to some social housing in Lambeth, may well interpret that job title in a very different way.
It also has to be said that neither Lorna Hughes nor Iago Griffith and their positions, a comprehensive description of what their responsibilities are, or their contact details have been made available in most of the numerous council publications, and they are not on the RBKC website.
And here is a former suit who has helped to leave council committees and scrutiny in a right mess and who deliberately shut out residents affected by Grenfell:
Grenfell, scrutiny and the non-recovery: Take a bow, Heather Wills!
Heather Wills was Director of Governance and Coordination at RBKC has left our council, but her efforts, which have helped to further harm relations between residents and the council as well as relations between the Leadership of RBKC and the Labour opposition group, as well as reducing levels of council scrutiny as a whole, cannot go unmentioned here.
As local resident, Claire asked at the first ever Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting: “who elected Heather Wills?” Her question went unanswered but most of us know the obvious answer – nobody; and this is part of the problem, unelected staff who are unfamiliar with the community and are setting the agenda and who are failing to properly involve residents in the lead up to decisions being taken.
Wills the wilful was apparently behind the “”Residents Conference” which was not advertised anywhere and consisted of just 15 people out of a population of over 160,000 (!) who supposdly felt that dog mess was a more pressing council issue than Grenfell recovery. Most RAs were of course, completely unaware of the event, yet this was treated by some at RBKC as a legimate residents’ response!
(We did notice on Heather Wills’ last day , that unlike former Director of Housing Needs Maxine Holdsworth, she did not receive a round of applause from anyone – not even senior RBKC Cabinet members – for her work, which has set us all on a backwards path. )
Urban Dandy had further background on scrutiny and something to say about all this at the time.
We posted about changes to committees and the meeting when RBKC voted for abolition of the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee last year too.
A poor show
We seem to have gone from a few narcissistic councillors before Grenfell who carried out their own agendas while oppressing objections from residents and suppressing community activity, to more unelected managers and directors than ever before, and the council’s PR management of Grenfell communications has sadly put many members of our North Kensington community off going to meetings and speaking to some RBKC staff and councillors.
Council communications and directions have mostly become blurred in a fog of unnacountability, with residents for the most part not kept fully informed despite the plethora of publications and social media announcements.
When a few RBKC Cabinet members have on occasions made some genuine effort to engage with residents, matters are not helped by the activities (and indeed inactivities ) from suits who do not live here, and who do not know the borough or its residents very well.
There are obviously differences of opinion – that happens everywhere, and the local priorities and indeed political affilations, for say, a residemts group in Queen’s Gate Ward and another in Golborne Ward, may at times, be at opposite ends of the scale! A balance needs to be struck, but also there needs to be some sensible exercise of a line of communications between differing parties at times. Unfortunately most of what we see does seem to be selective and conducted unfairly; and it must be stressed that not consulting with affected residents and others living near Grenfell but consulting with residents outside North Kensington on Grenfell related matters instead is just plainly absurd.
Politics aside, as difficult as this might sound, most community-active residents and our council, if we are ever to really see any kind of positive change, need to at some point work together and find points of agreement on which to build foundations on. Diffcult but not impossible.
RBKC Leader Elizabeth “Dizzy Lizzy ” Campbell and some of her supporters are blindly ignoring the obvious and what is actually right in front of them – communities that already exist – but are leaning on the suits for direction. Cllr Campbell perhaps ought to bear in mind that putting so much faith in an unelected, not very transparent council management strategy is costly, undemocratic and it also appears to be alienating local people who have traditionally been supportive of the RBKC Leadership.
There is a lot of talk from these suits of residents “co-designing” but we have to question who is really designing what? Because so many residents are not exactly being communicated and engaged with in any sort of meaningful way. Most of what we are hearing and seeing is just more corporate speak and advertisements – most of which is less than helpful.
It is not clear to most residents of this borough who exactly is giving the stage directions here.
How long before the curtain comes down on this whole rotten debacle?
(WE SEND OUR THANKS TO URBAN DANDY AND ALL OTHERS WHO QUESTION THIS CORPORATE COMMUNCATIONS 💩SHOW, AND KEEP OUR COUNCIL ON THEIR TOES!)
(Most of this article and the other links happened to be drafted before this country and our community was under lockdown due to Coronavirus Covid-19. Our thoughts are with all affected . )