Sajid Javid, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, will today announce a specialist taskforce is being sent in to Kensington and Chelsea Council. A team of experts will manage “housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance” according to the Huffington Post.
I understand the report is correct but it should be understood that these are not commissioners. The new arrangements are being undertaken with the consent of the new council leadership rather than being imposed. Furthermore it is generally accepted that most council services in the borough operate exceptionally smoothly. When commissioners are sent in they take over the entire running of the Council. In this case something more focussed is makes sense – to deal with lamentable failure to respond to the specific crisis.
The Huffington Post adds:
“All those who survived the horrific fire were promised new homes by Wednesday, within the three week deadline set by the Government, but many were still in hotels or temporary accommodation as of this week.
“The Tory council has been heavily criticised not just for ignoring repeated warnings from residents groups about fire safety, but also for its slow response to the disaster.
“The British Red Cross and local groups had to step in to coordinate essential activities, and a Government-run Grenfell Recovery Taskforce was sent in to help.
“The ‘Gold command’ run by Met Police, outside council chiefs and others continues to carry out key functions, but will be gradually replaced in housing and other duties by the new external taskforce.”
Opposition politicians may well object that the measures “don’t go far enough”. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and Andrew Gwynne, the Shadow Communities Secretary are among those to have called for commissioners. However sorting out problems by consent is quicker and more flexible. Using commissioners is a quasi judicial process. So it is not something that any Communities and Local Government Secretary should ever rule out with any Council, as that would be to pre-determine himself. When it does happen it is usually a lengthy process for it to be implemented – as was the case with Rotherham and Tower Hamlets.
The response by Javid seems practical and well balanced.
This has now been confirmed:
Sajid Javid, Communities Secretary said:
“The scale of the recovery effort needed on the Lancaster West estate in the months to come cannot be underestimated. Support to survivors, the families and friends of those who lost their lives and residents in the wider community must and will be ongoing. The challenge of providing that support is and will continue to be significant. I want to help the council meet that challenge.
“The immediate response to the disaster is being coordinated by the Grenfell Response Team, headed up by John Barradell. He is ably supported by a number of colleagues drawn from London Councils, the wider local government sector including the RBKC, the voluntary sector, Police, Health and Fire services as well as central government. Their expertise and hard work is making a huge difference.
“As well as providing that immediate support, we must have an eye to the future. This intervention is putting in place the foundations that will support the longer term recovery.”
Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, the new leader of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, said:
“We have a lot of very dedicated council staff working to provide help and support to those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
“But the unprecedented scale of this incident makes it impossible for one organisation to cope on its own.
“That’s why my first action as leader was to ask DCLG for help, and I’m delighted they have been so swift to respond.
“I look forward to working with their staff as we all concentrate our efforts on healing the wounds in the north of our borough and to regain the trust of a community traumatised by disaster.”