KCTMO: Who, What, Where, When & Why – Part One

The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) was responsible for running the Lancaster West estate, including Grenfell Tower, in North Kensington. This year, its responsibility for Lancaster West was terminated following the Grenfell Tower fire of June 14th 2017, which killed 72 people. But what is KCTMO? Has it really ceased to exist? And why do these initials provoke such antipathy in North Kensington?

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A Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) is traditionally a small, tenant-led group that takes over some of the landlord management responsibilities and oversight for an estate from a local authority. Of the 200 TMOs in Britain, the KCTMO was distinct in being an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO) and therefore, by its very design, not representative of residents. KCTMO was created to directly take over the council’s management of its social housing, rather than to provide representative oversight.

Creation

The KCTMO story takes place against the backdrop of Conservative party predominance over the Kensington and Chelsea council. This was no different in 1996, when the council feared it might lose control of its social housing stock, which was subject to a compulsory tendering strategy from national government. To maintain its control, the council created the KCTMO, with its management team of 20, including, initially, 13 residents. In the plan, KCTMO would take control of the borough’s 9,000 social housing properties, but for major works (costing over £400,000, such as the Grenfell Tower refurbishment) liability was shared equally with the council.

Change

In 2002, to access the Labour government’s Decent Homes funding, KCTMO became an ALMO, reducing the number of tenants on its board whilst maintaining the TMO designation in its name. By the late 00s, serious issues were emerging. An independent report in 2009 identified “substandard” repairs and a need for major works, recommending the Tory council take a greater role in monitoring KCTMO.

In response to the alarming report, newly appointed KCTMO chief executive Robert Black pledged to build trust between the TMO and tenants. But this did not come to pass.

In 2013, when I lived on the estate, the Estate Management Board at Lancaster West was wound up. There were “terrifying” power surges at Grenfell Tower and plans for the Kensington Academy secondary school and new Kensington Leisure Centre, next to Grenfell Tower were not received enthusiastically by residents, the sense being that KCTMO and the council were out of touch with, and even dismissive of, residents’ voices.

Refurbishment

In 2015 the Grenfell Tower refurbishment began, above the demolished leisure centre and the walkways (Barandon, Hurstway and Testerton) which have seen no improvements whatsoever.

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L-R Grenfell Tower pre-refurbishment, newly built Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre

In 2016, serious complaints about KCTMO were made, but the council – ignoring the recommendations of the 2009 report to reform scrutiny – allowed the TMO to investigate the complaints itself. Residents called for an independent adjudicator to investigate the fire risk at Grenfell, but this demand was rejected.

It was in November 2016 that Grenfell Action Group published this opening paragraph in their blog post ‘KCTMO – Playing with Fire!’:

It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of looking after the every day management of large-scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster”.

Grenfell

On June 14th 2017, the “major disaster” that the Action Group had tried to pre-empt killed 72 people in Grenfell Tower.

Robert Black resigned at the end of 2017, but retained his six-figure salary, £140,000 per annum, according to another local blog, From the Hornet’s Nest. In early 2018, with KCTMO’s future uncertain, council documents showed that 3,500 repair jobs remained outstanding at the 9,000 TMO properties.

Personal Perspective

I lived on Barandon Walk, one of the walkways or “finger blocks” underneath Grenfell Tower, from 2010 to 2014. The walkways are architecturally brutalist and bizarre; brickwork on the outside, designed to look like the interior of a ship on the inside. Nevertheless, the flats themselves are spacious and I had a large balcony, with the Grenfell Tower as my view to the left and Notting Hill straight across.

It quickly became clear to me that the KCTMO was distrusted and even hated, and it was easy to see why. The building was left to deteriorate. There was no investment or improvement made or planned. Even tenant proposals to improve communal areas with plants or fresh paint were rejected. The rumour was that the council wanted to run the estate into the ground and then demolish it to make way for more lucrative properties to be built.

On weekends the heating and hot water would stop. They were on a communal system. I would call to alert the TMO but they never sent anybody out to fix the problem, and would sometimes tell me that nobody else had complained that day so I should stop bothering them. Eventually, like everyone else, I gave up. 

The building of the new school and leisure centre were controversial. The school cost a fraction of the amount spent on Holland Park school just up the road, and the old leisure centre was flattened, leaving a pile of rubble for years.

I was relieved to get away from the estate, despite having made it my home and my daughter’s home, and despite the friendliness of my neighbours. I was even more relieved in the days after the Grenfell fire that I didn’t have to face the dilemma of whether to stay or take my daughter away, and I didn’t need to rely on a council that proved itself to be incompetent as well as uncaring. Upon leaving Lancaster West, I reflected on the fact that it is a ghetto maintained from afar, from the Town Hall, where the people living in the flats are not deemed useful enough for those responsible to do their jobs properly. I knew this was all political. I had only occasionally read the Grenfell Action Group blog, but what they campaigned for and the inequality they shone a light on was something we all knew intuitively.

On 14th June 2017 I climbed on to my balcony and saw that tower, so familiar to me, on fire. The news told me six people had died. For a few minutes I believed them. I went down to Lancaster West see my old neighbours, most of whom were on the grass verge on Grenfell Road staring, shell-shocked, at the tower. All of them greeted me as a neighbour. Some I didn’t remember remembered me. “How is your daughter? How are you getting on?” A moment of normality until they turned again to see the tower. Some of my older neighbours might never recover from the shock, many will be haunted forever by the sights and sounds they heard. The ones able to express themselves did so, and what they expressed was total contempt for KCTMO; the fire was shocking, but nobody, especially not the council, can say it was unforeseen or unavoidable.

Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Thanks to Jennifer Cavanagh @jannanni

Armistice for the Soul

Flanders

Emptying the toy box of my heart

Old soldiers without limbs

Cars without wheels

Airplanes missing wings…

Such distant boyhood memories…

Wars fought – won – lost

What have I become?

My complex mind

Forever computing

the daily input of knowledge

as I seek truth

deep inside my core

refusing to be caught up

in this phony war…

 

A masquerade of lies

of conflicting ideologies, faith, values…

Peace pursued with aggression!

As I make my stand

in no man’s land

Shelled by both sides…

 

This war to end all wars

Vietnam – Troops wearing peace badges

Playing hippy music – smoking weed

Destroying with napalm…

All who oppose…

 

Fighting for each other

Brave men – Good men

Now the army of the disillusioned…

Like us all shuffling along

blinded by the fumes

of the meat grinding media machine…

My only agenda – to survive

Stay alive – not get stuck in the wire

dragged down – to drown in the mire

The last post a distant soundtrack

as I weep, tired, weary

understanding nothing

except my love for Indiana

my daughter – my bub!

Unconditional – strong

Unlike my faith in God

Whose love I doubt

Inverted pride mixed with fear…

 

Oh! to be set free

from such insanity

that grips – rages in my head…

Forever tormenting my mind

A prisoner of shame and guilt…

Wash me in your precious

blood, my saviour

Bind our wounds

Heal this broken land….

 

©M.C. Bolton, November 2018

Change at RBKC? Case Study 1

In July an independent review of Kensington and Chelsea Council’s governance was concluded and the council adopted twelve recommended “principles of good governance” . To assess how the council has fared in applying their new democratic principles it is worth considering an ongoing example: Canalside House, the North Kensington community hub currently under threat of “demolition” by the local authority. Is there any evidence of a change of approach to the local community?

The Review

The Centre for Public Scrutiny, experts on effective decision-making, were commissioned to carry out the independent review, which was funded by the Local Government Association. RBKC welcomed the subsequent report and adopted “12 principles of good governance we should embed in the council.” The 12 Principles are bespoke, designed specifically for RBKC to act on its claims to want to “change” following the Grenfell Tower fire.

The council’s own report endorsing the CPS recommendations was titled ‘CHANGE AT THE COUNCIL: THE COUNCIL’S RESPONSE TO THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF GOVERNANCE’ (their capitals) came four months after the independent review, suggesting serious consideration and a real commitment to action on the part of the local authority, who stated: “the council recognises that it (sic) essential to put these principles into practice.” The council’s leadership are to be held to account on this by the Executive and Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee.

The council leaders who hold the relevant portfolios and who endorsed the report were Elizabeth Campbell (leader) and Cllr Gerard Hargreaves (responsible for Communities and Culture).

Have the 12 principles been put in to practice? 

Scrutiny  

Canalside House is an acid test of whether “change” has come, is still in the post, or is just Newspeak.

The Canalside story can be read in more detail here, but in short, the building is one of the few remaining Kensington assets preserved for community use. It is under threat of demolition to make way for private housing developments out of the price range of most North Kensington residents.

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Canalside House (right)

We spoke with members of the Canalside User Group, which represents all the Canalside organisations, to discover whether or not the council has been putting its policy into practice.

Principle 1. “Connecting with Residents”

“The council hasn’t connected with us at all. They haven’t visited, but our building is to be demolished and us moved. They seem to want us to go to a hot-desking space, but that’s not suitable and would mean the end for most of us”.

2. “Focusing on What Matters”

“We work with vulnerable people, children, BME community groups, small businesses, we’re the lifeblood of North Kensington and support for Grenfell. But the council seems more focused on building unaffordable properties”.

3. “Listening to Many Voices”

“They haven’t listened to us. That would require them speaking to us and that hasn’t happened. We emailed Kim Taylor-Smith (deputy leader of RBKC) a few times but he didn’t get back to us until he decided to inform us our building would be ‘demolished’

It’s not just us, they have ignored local activists and the Kensington and Chelsea Social Council when they’ve asked about Canalside”.

4. “Acting with Integrity”

Kim Taylor-Smith, 9th February 2018: “Kensington and Chelsea Council has no plans whatsoever to sell off Canalside House”.

RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee, 13th September 2018:  For a proposed new housing development, “part or all of the Canalside House site will require demolition”.

5. “Involving Before Deciding”

“We have not been involved at all”.

6. “Communicating What We Are Doing”

“We find out about their decisions by watching videos of scrutiny committee meetings or waiting for the documents from a scrutiny committee meeting. That isn’t communicating with us”

7. “Inviting Residents to Take Part”

“We’ve had no invitation. In 2016 we were presented with a fait accompli when they wanted us out. Despite this Centre for Public Scrutiny report, what has changed in two years?

The wider community, who used Canalside House after the fire, have not been consulted. This is a council building, but the council are ignorant about what goes on here”

8. “Being Clearly Accountable”

“The council staff we’ve spoken to are in agreement that Canalside House shouldn’t be under threat. But the decision makers are not present, they don’t get back to us. We emailed Taylor-Smith a month ago, he promised a full reply. Nothing. Who are they accountable to? Where is the scrutiny of the lead councilors?”

9. “Responding Fairly to Everyone’s Needs”

“To completely ignore the needs of the resident groups at Canalside and everyone they represent is not responsive or fair. It suggests another agenda. We’ve attended their ‘listening exercises’ around North Ken but what difference do they make?”

10. “Working as Team”

“You know they’re not doing that”

11. “Managing Responsibly”

“This is the very antithesis of taking social and economic responsibility. Their approach disregards the needs of the population they are supposed to serve.”

People who use Canalside are a mix of people. A lot of children who use the services are from seriously overcrowded homes, sometimes double figures in a two bed flat. This is the council’s responsibility, but we are the ones helping these people. Small businesses come here that benefit the local economy. Innocent Smoothies started at Canalside House, so they can’t claim it’s not a successful place. If it’s valuable, why treat it with contempt?”

Principle 12, “Having the Support we Need” is an internal council principle and not relevant to the Canalside House example.

Conclusion

Have the principles been put in to practice? Has change arrived? No.

 

 

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles