RBKC Scrutiny #3 The Administration Committee Meeting

The future is unwritten…events this week at Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) could have triggered a political realignment in the north of the borough. Or they could have consolidated Tory power… 

What happened?

On 15th July at RBKC’s regular administration committee meeting, Councillors voted to scrap a council committee that scrutinises RBKC’s response to the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

The decision to abandon the scrutiny committee is based on a “residents’ conference” to which 15 people turned up, in addition to 77 who contributed to the consultation in writing.

The two Labour members of the council administration committee joined residents in walking out of Monday’s meeting in protest at the move, leaving four Conservative Councillors to vote through the recommendations. The Tory Councillors had been whipped (compelled) to vote to abandon the scrutiny committee.

The plan for the changes to scrutiny was made by a council panel made up of four Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat, effectively bypassing North Kensington, where all elected Councillors are from the Labour party.

from rbkc.gov.uk

The scrapping of the committee, which will be ratified at full council meeting on 24th July, is part of a review of the council’s scrutiny committee structure which will see the current six specialist committees shrink to four “select committees” overseen by an overview and scrutiny body.

The leader of the council, Elizabeth Campbell, who is also chair of the administration committee, was not present, although no reason was given for her absence. The council’s deputy leader, with special responsibility for Grenfell, Kim Taylor-Smith, stated that he did not see any reason to defer the decision.

The council’s plan is that Grenfell meetings will be held in North Kensington rather than at the Town Hall. Cllr Anne Cyron, lead member for communications and overseeing Grenfell Recovery said this will ensure central government representatives will attend, although this point was rejected by Labour councillors and Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad, who said the idea that government ministers will attend residents’ meetings in North Kensington is “absolutely ridiculous.” Dent Coad also called on the government to put RBKC in special measures.

Cllr Cyron said that a forum held away from the Town Hall could look at issues beyond the council’s remit, such as soil contamination and the Grenfell memorial commission.

The review panel was chaired by Cllr Greg Hammond, who said there will also be working parties. He sought to reassure the assembled residents by saying that he would not have suggested the changes unless he was confident that scrutiny would be improved as a result.

The response

The administration committee meeting attracted a larger-than-usual turnout of local residents, alarmed at the sudden removal of the Grenfell scrutiny committee. Although the gathered residents had not had time to organise a coordinated response to the council’s plan, their retort was coherent and clear. “This is too shady” said one.

“You’re managing a PR disaster; we’re dealing with a humanitarian one” said another.

One resident called the decision “thoroughly disrespectful to our community” as the decision to scrap scrutiny has come while there is still no sign of justice for the bereaved, survivors and the community.

“Why are the recommendations so far-reaching, given there was so little consultation?” one Councillor asked Cllr Hammond.

And a member of the public accused RBKC of creating false premise for their decision by claiming they had carried out ‘broad and sustained’ outreach. This point was backed up by representatives of numerous residents’ associations who reported that they had not been invited to take part in the consultation. Cllr Hammond responded that the consultation had been advertised, including on the social network Nextdoor.

When RBKC decided to ignore the public’s objections and press on with the meeting in order to vote through the proposal, the North Kensington residents walked out. The meeting turned to farce when North Kensington musician Niles Hailstones joined the panel members, singing to them and telling them “your consultation is fake” while the Tory councillors pressed on with the procedural matters required to ensure Grenfell scrutiny is scrapped.

Questions Raised

Leadership

“There is no leadership in this council” said Emma Dent Coad – indeed, where was Elizabeth Campbell? Along with Cllr Gerard Hargreaves and Cllr Catherine Faulks, Campbell is a member of RBKC’s cabinet who has retained a prominent role after the fire, and as such has a clear conflict of interest. 

Perhaps it is a case of the less scrutiny the better for Campbell, who must eventually face questions over her role in creating a culture at RBKC that led to catastrophic decisions being taken. It is well understood that it is Cllr Taylor-Smith who really runs the show at RBKC. But Campbell remains a figurehead, and one it seems the Tories are eager to keep away from public exposure.

Devolution

At the meeting, Cllr Blakeman (Labour) stated that the review panel were sent papers on potential devolution for North Kensington, but did not discuss them. She said that the papers have been put on the RBKC website as if they were discussed.

Cllr Mason, leader of the Labour group, also pushed the devolution question, saying that it was on the table at the full council meeting of August 2017. Cllr Lindsay responded by saying: “It was decided at full council meeting in May 2019 not to proceed with devolution.”

Herein lies the problem. There could be near-unanimous agreement in North Kensington over a course of action, but this can be blocked every time on the whim of the ruling party in the Town Hall.

Who is scrutinising the scrutinisers?

The one lay member of the Grenfell scrutiny committee pointed out: “at the last meeting when we scrutinised you, you hadn’t done any of the actions on the action tracker.”

But there is currently no blowback for failure and there is a very real fear among the community of RBKC sensing they are out of the woods and returning to business-as-usual with all that entails.

Conservatives

The Conservative Councillors proved to be extremely brittle when they faced the criticisms of the North Kensington contingent. They reverted to type, a bullying, conceited attitude and a determination to force through their decision. Administration committee vice-chair Cllr Lindsay, deputising for Campbell, did not conceal his contempt for the objections raised or the people raising them.

Change?

North Kensington residents have had to learn to cope with a situation none of them are happy with. Are those residents who engage with RBKC just re-traumatising themselves for no gain? Or are their efforts laying the foundations of a new North Kensington?

The ongoing failures of RBKC and the spontaneous residents’ walkout this week generated the hope that the administration committee meeting really was the beginning of the end for RBKC in North Kensington. But politics can be illusory – it felt like the most significant event on Monday night was RBKC losing control of its own meeting. But was it?

The vote passed with ease and Grenfell scrutiny has been reduced thanks to the eternal political imbalance in Kensington.

Power systems never give ground voluntarily, especially when they represent private capital, and so the most tainted council in Britain is hanging on. How long will it be before its grip on North Kensington is relinquished?

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

with thanks to @ThisIsNorthKen

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 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

RBKC Scrutiny #1 GU in Parliament

grenfell_projection_capture_0094

There have been plenty of significant developments in North Kensington as Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) and the local population deal with the fallout from the entirely preventable June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people died. The mainstream media might be busy elsewhere, but there is still a lot going on. With justice and change still not forthcoming, it is important to maintain a factual record and keep up the scrutiny…

Grenfell United

Our updates start in parliament with the survivors and bereaved group Grenfell United (GU) bearing witness to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee on the situation regarding housing conditions nationwide and developments with RBKC. Although GU’s latest testimony to lawmakers had little or no media pickup, it was of the utmost significance to those wanting to understand what has been happening in Kensington and possible future developments.

GU’s evidence to the Select Committee on July 8th started with an update on the re-housing of Grenfell survivors, some of whom have still not been catered for, over two years on. GU explained that the issue is not a lack of housing, but inadequate homes being offered, unfit for habitation. They cited issues with disabled access and properties in need of repair meaning survivors had not made their long-awaited moves.

GU express concern that inadequate properties was still being offered to Grenfell survivors and asked: “If it’s happening to us, what’s happening across the country?”

Grenfell-style cladding remains on blocks across the country and campaigns have been launched to press for action on this. GU believe a deadline for the removal of all cladding would be effective. Grenfell survivors’ willingness to lobby for improvements to dangerous buildings on behalf of people across the country has been a distinguishing feature of GU’s development. And this need to take the initiative was a theme they returned to repeatedly in parliament.

grenfell_projection__wide

RBKC

GU also provided the MPs of the Select Committee with an overview of RBKC’s performance, including a useful take on the veracity of the council’s claim that it would fundamentally change its approach to public service in North Kensington after the 2017 fire.

“RBKC is starting from a particularly low base” GU quoted the government’s Grenfell Taskforce’s first report as saying. GU reflected that when they testified in parliament last year, they identified a “vast chasm of distrust” of RBKC among the local population. Updating this assessment, GU reported that RBKC are apologetic and some officers and senior councillors understand what the community needs. But while RBKC are publishing strategies and roadmaps, these are not translating into visible improvements.

Because of the lack of change, GU stated that trust with the local authority would take a generation to rebuild. More than that, GU said they detected that some RBKC staff “believe they’ve suffered enough and it’s time to go back to business as usual,” a phrase that is being heard more and more in North Kensington.

GU said that the council were “definitely responding to what we’re asking for” but that any changes still require badgering from the local community. Progress is too slow according to GU, who say they want “a progressive local plan.”

What should this progressive local plan look like? The GU representatives told the Select Committee that they want GU to be remembered for the positive changes that came after the fire, rather than for the way they were treated by the authorities in the aftermath. They want RBKC to become “the best borough” in the UK, “progressive, listening.”

Chronic tardiness is a problem; delaying change, undermining trust. GU’s take on RBKC’s lack of urgency in delivering change: “It’s like Grenfell didn’t happen.”

UK Government

As for the national government, GU lamented the fact that survivors have had to work so hard to push for substantive changes that would prevent another atrocity on the scale of Grenfell. One example provided was the government ignoring the demand in North Kensington for checks to be made for soil contamination.

GU described their dealings with the national government as “a mixture of incompetence and indifference” but identified the government’s green paper on social housing, due for publication in September, as a document that has the potential to provide a fitting legacy for Grenfell.

GU stated that the legacy will not emerge from either the public inquiry or the police inquiry. They said that “institutional indifference” towards people in social housing can only be challenged via the green paper. Working with their third housing minister since June 2017, GU have been pushing for a green paper that will fundamentally change the way people in social housing live, specifically with regards to tenant voice and representation.

GU invoked Sherlock Holmes’ dog that didn’t bark in describing the role played (or not played) by the social housing regulators to date, calling for far more robust regulation and a split regulator based on a financial model (more on that here).

Despite the scope for fundamental change in the social housing green paper – “parliament needs to create something, a document that really makes a big difference” – GU expressed their fear that they will be badly let down when it is finally published in the Autumn.

And they expressed an even more pervasive fear: that the litany of official delays, missed opportunities, incompetence and a return to business-as-usual amid less and less scrutiny, means a delay to the provision of answers and the spectre of a decades-long struggle for justice, like the one the Hillsborough families still endure.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” – Grenfell United, the House of Commons, July 2019.  

 

 

You can watch Grenfell United’s session at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee here.

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

photos from @GrenfellUnited

Phantasmagoria

I saw paradise in her eyes

Eden before the fall

free of snake or thorn

innocence recaptured

through such beauty

 

I stare at her shadow

which slowly overwhelms my soul

any feeble pretence

swept away by truth

 

All too much for one man’s heart

rose of Sharon – lilly of the valley

adorned in jewels

feet of gold

words formless – eluding me…

 

Like that brief silence

in no man’s land

when barrages ceased

before whistles blown

then over the top

to be felled by lead

drowned in mud

 

Ultimate transubstantiation

pitiful cries to God – for Mother

paradise eyes returns

slowly dropping daisies

into my dreams

pulchritudinous – Stendhal syndromatic!

 

My Rosebud – snow globe breaker

I am confused, lost, floating

in a sea of idealistic isolation

clinging only to the

eternal lifebelt of hope….

 

 

© MC Bolton, June 2019

 

 

globe

Acid Rain

Untitled_Artwork

 

What is my reality?

life’s music taking me further away

from what I see – understand

maybe think I know!

I stand amongst

the ruins of civilization

flames all around

time has ceased

forever trapped in this dystopian nightmare

never to die or sleep

 

Yet somehow I have found contentment

peace within myself

accepting my lot

grateful for what I have

not envious of the material rich

their path – never mine

Perhaps once for a time?

 

Acid rain now melting my face

like a waxwork

destroyed by thermite

laughing inwardly

as I become one with the soil

to be moulded again

by God’s hand

into the man

I should have been….

 

© MC Bolton, June 2019

Art © OGCZ 2019

Event: Housing and Land in RBKC

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One week after the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower atrocity, local residents and campaigners are holding a day of talks, workshops and film screenings about the housing crisis in Kensington & Chelsea.

The event takes place at Kensington Town Hall and will be hosted by Save Earl’s Court Supporters Club; Save Silchester; T.H.I.N.K., Westway 23 and supported by the Radical Housing Network. Below is their summary and here is the link to register for a free ticket: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/housing-and-land-in-rbkc-tickets-62845738295?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

Two miles from Grenfell Tower lie 22 acres of empty land that used to be the Earls Court Exhibition Centre. A venue that brought over £1 billion a year into the economy. Knocked down to make way for a luxury housing development. Public land given to private developers to build for the property speculators on and off-shore in a Borough where public land is constantly under threat from the council and private developers. A development with zero social housing planned whilst families from Grenfell still live in temporary housing. How is a council that has failed to react to the housing crisis going to deal with the climate crisis? All development and buildings now take place in the context of the climate crisis.

This event asks the questions; how did we get into this situation? In the context of the climate crisis and Grenfell how should our land and housing be used? What does our community need?

Sessions Include:

The Attack on Public Housing

Safe Homes

Housing , Land and the Climate Emergency

Community and Co-operative Solutions

Older People Forgotten Victims of the Housing Crisis

Speakers confirmed so far include:

Stuart Hodkinson Academic, author of Save as Houses: Private Greed, Political Negligence and Housing Policy After Grenfell

Phil Murphy. Fire safety expert. Manchester Sustainable Communities

Danielle Majid, Tower Blocks UK

Richard Lees, Just Space

Land Justice Network

Alison Bancroft, Housing Association Residents Action

Joe Delaney

Lizzie Spring, Long term K&C resident who writes and campaigns on whole neighbourhood resident-led approaches to housing

Emma Dent Coad MP

Cllr Linda Wade

Melanie Wolfe

Tony O’ Brien, author: Tackling the housing crisis

Community Matters – Free Music Event for North Kensington

TRAUMA EVENING FLIER_GREENYELLOW

This Saturday evening, as part of the Trauma Matters weekend at the Tabernacle to mark the two year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, WeCoproduce CIC is hosting two hours of soulful sounds & soothing rhythms by female artists.

Saturday 15th June, 7-9pm,

The theatre, upstairs at the Tabernacle.

Free entry for all, no need to book.

The show will be entirely led by a diverse range of brilliant female artists as a nod to the essential rol played by women in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell fire.

The music will be preceded by a book signing by the renowned speaker, author and trauma expert Dr Gabor Maté at 5pm and the launch of the Writing from the Roots North Kensington EZine at 6pm. Tickets for Gabor Maté’s workshop have sold out, but tickets for day two of Trauma Matters are available, with a limited number of free tickets for North Kensington residents. Please email jane@wecoproduce.com.

Lineup for the Community Matters music event:

The Grime Violinist is a unique artist. Classically trained, she is currently the only violinist in the world dedicated to grime and the first violinist to release her own original grime tracks. The Grime Violinist has worked with artists including Giggs, Lethal Bizzle, Mr Eazi and Lady Leshurr. Her performances have ranged from Glastonbury, Wireless and Boomtown Festivals, to The Royal Albert Hall, Hammersmith Apollo and Roundhouse. TV appearances have included performing on BBC 1, ITV, SBTV and Channel 4 on the Big Narstie Show.

@grimeviolinist / thegrimeviolinist.co.uk

Desta Hailé‘s music is influenced by jazz, reggae, soul & the many places she has called home. She has worked an eclectic range of artists, from Joe Bataan to Zap Mama, and recently opened for Sara Tavares at Jazz Café.

@destahaile / soundcloud.com/destahaile / facebook.com/destamusic

Helen McCookerybook was born and raised in Wylam, Northumberland, Helen was the bass player/singer with Brighton indie band The Chefs and guitarist/singer with Helen and the Horns in the 1980s. Both of were favourites of BBC Radio 1’s John Peel. After a break to raise a family, she returned to the stage as a solo artist with a new set of songs, and since then has toured the UK regularly, releasing four solo albums. She has recorded with artists such as Gina Birch of the Raincoats, Vic Godard, Lester Square, Martin Stephenson, and Arrest! Charlie Tipper, and been played regularly by Gideon Coe on BBC Radio6

mccookerybook.com / helenmccookerybook.bandcamp.com/album/the-sea / facebook.com/Helen-McCookerybook

Ishani is breathing new life into the Trip Hop genre. She has recently been made a BBC Introducing artist by Bobby Friction and is instantly recognisable by her distinctive vocals, and incisive and often challenging lyricism. Brooding, hypnotic and sensual, her songs offer comfort as a shoulder to lean on; a cathartic electronic outpouring of personal relief. “Poetic, magical realism mixed in with Trip Hop” Bobby Friction BBC Asian Network.

ishanimusic.com / @IshaniChakra / 

Kinetic Minds is a two-piece collective from W11. Exploring the relation between feelings and motion through sounds, simple and complex dialogue, Kinetic Minds is a tribute to the edge of our culture in the pop landscape.

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by Tom Charles @tomhcharles