Report condemns Grenfell council for ‘failing its community’

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Initial findings from the Independent Grenfell Task Force appear to confirm that Kensington and Chelsea Council had neither the breadth of skills nor the competence to cope

Kensington & Chelsea Borough Council “failed its community” over the Grenfell disaster and must meet a series of recommendations to raise the ongoing recovery programme, a report from the Independent Grenfell Task Force has revealed.

The Independent Grenfell Task Force found that prior to the fire the council was distant from its residents; highly traditional in its operational behaviours; limited in its understanding of collaborative working and inward-looking, despite cross borough agreements; and deficit in its understanding of modern public service delivery.

As a result, the report says the task force had the impression of council having neither the breadth of skills or the competence to organise, manage and drive through an immediate and significant change in operational delivery in the days and weeks immediately following the disaster.

The council’s immediate response alone is criticised as “at best disjointed and seemingly rudderless.”

Rehousing is recognised as a “substantial and immediate” challenge with 320 households still in hotel accommodation and attempts to temporarily and permanently rehouse them is proving to be a complex exercise.

The circumstances for rehousing are said to be “unprecedented” at this scale and the rehousing response must be equally unprecedented in its attention to the personal needs and aspirations of each family.

With the decision made to end the contract with Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the task force is “unconvinced” that the council offers any better option as landlord – particularly in the medium to long term.

Here, the report recommends a full options appraisal for the future ownership and management of housing stock – either as a whole or in smaller parcels/packages.

The council now has three months to demonstrate the instigation of initial action on the report’s recommendations.

Amongst these is the covering of the tower as soon as possible, with it being “reprehensible” to have remained uncovered for so long.

Following a significant change of senior leadership, the report recognises the council as “working hard” to develop and deliver effective support and services to survivors and the wider community – and is doing so while undergoing a fundamental change in the way it delivers its functions and its organisational culture.

The report identifies four themes to drive the ongoing recovery effort:

  • More Pace: the pace of delivery needs to be increased
  • Greater empathy and emotional intelligence: these attributes need to be put at the heart of the council’s recovery plans
  • Skills: all officers and councillors need training in how to work with a community that has been traumatised
  • Greater Innovation: the council has to be bolder than it has been in its response.

Outlining a number of detailed recommendations – most of which fall to the council, but some to Government and the community – the report indicates timescales by which each should be met.

The report also suggests the weekly Ministerial Recovery Groups (MRG), chaired by the Communities Secretary, should be reduced in frequency.

Though the report recognises many actions have been suggested and agreed that could make an immediate difference on the ground, in too many cases these have not been delivered.

Ensuring these are delivered will begin to engender trust in RBKC’s ability to deliver, the report says.

The Grenfell Task Force will continue to monitor the council and anticipates an update in the next three months to “delve deeper” and look more closely at how effectively these plans are being delivered on the ground.

Though the report finds the council failed its community on the night of the disaster and over the weeks immediately following, many staff are acknowledged as doing their best to help despite a “leadership vacuum” aligned with silo service delivery – leaving little effective and structured support.

The report accepts no local authority could develop a response to a disaster of Grenfell’s magnitude without help from other councils, public services and government.

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