RBKC Scrutiny #2

The second in a series of posts about scrutiny of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC)…

Watercolour of Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall by the architect Sir Basil Spence.
Copyright: the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Libraries (RBKC Libraries)

Since the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, North Kensington residents,  campaigners and writers have attended RBKC meetings to challenge the local authority, bear witness and watch for any signs of a return to business as usual. The latest meeting revealed a local authority losing its credibility, and possibly its grip, on North Kensington.

Democracy   

The meetings, held at the Town Hall, retraumatise rather than help people move on. The denial of democratic power and control to North Kensington residents with post-traumatic stress disorder is characteristic of a local authority whose indifference towards the population of the north of the borough led them to ignore repeated warnings of fire risk at Grenfell Tower.

In building a case for a new North Kensington, there is no need for those in attendance to look for nuance or to read between the lines of the Councillors’ words. There is little nuance and the words are just words, devoid of meaning.

This was why the gathered residents walked out of Monday night’s Administration Committee meeting at which the ruling Conservative party agreed to do away with the Grenfell Scrutiny Committee, against the wishes of 100% of the residents and opposition Councillors in attendance.

The tactic of divide and rule and the corrupting effect of money in North Kensington are losing their efficacy for RBKC. The loose collective of residents do not formally coordinate their approach to the council, but they function as if they do. Each gives the other space to speak without interruption; the content of their statements rarely overlaps and there is an unspoken awareness of a shared trauma and a shared enemy. The atomisation of the community hasn’t happened and this leaves RBKC in a predicament.

Taskforce

Even the government’s Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, which had previously gone out of its way to be generous about RBKC’s recovery efforts, issued the following criticism in its latest report to government:  

“The quality of the council’s relationship with the local community in the north of the borough is inconsistent and too frequently weak. The council have rightly focussed their efforts on bereaved and survivors. However, the relationship with the wider community in North Kensington has not made sufficient progress. In some respects, it is going backwards.”

When this most supine of establishment bodies is dishing out opprobrium, RBKC really are failing at their own game.

Among the North Kensington residents there is broad agreement on what is needed, and it is not what is being offered up by Kim Taylor-Smith’s council. What future is there for a local authority that cannot hold the space at its own meeting as it descends into farce? A local authority where senior Councillors, faced with traumatised, wronged residents, do not try to conceal their disdain. And residents, so willing to work with the council to build a better North Kensington, have no respect left for the Councillors.

The word devolution was mentioned numerous times on Monday. Keep listening RBKC, the call is getting louder and might become a crescendo.

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

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