RBKC has bins

Norland Ward in Kensington & Chelsea is 0.2 miles from Grenfell Tower. In a rational political culture, local politicians seeking election in that ward on Thursday would express support for the victims of the Grenfell fire and solemnly vow to address the worsening economic and social inequality that characterises North Kensington. But in the Royal Borough, pushing policies of injustice and inequality can guarantee you a safe seat, as the Tory candidates make clear in their campaign literature.

We previously looked at Kensington & Chelsea News, the local Conservative Party’s main election propaganda, which sets out their key policies: bin collections, borough-wide parking permits, clean air, low council tax, saving the local police station and money for parks. While some of these pledges are contradictory and some are probably fibs, they are accompanied by the biggest profanity of all; council leader Elizabeth Campbell claiming that “continued support and meaningful recovery for the communities most affected by the Grenfell tragedy will be at the heart of everything we do.”

North Ken Censored

The election propaganda for Norland Ward is more of the same, talking up the threat of a Labour-run council, promoting absurd policies and ignoring residents in the north of the borough. Even though Norland’s boundary reaches into North Kensington, there is no mention of Grenfell or the poverty that plagues the area.

The Conservative candidates, Stuart Graham and David Lindsay, have ultra-safe seats and plenty of political space to express any conscience or vision they possess. They instead follow the council strategy of studiously ignoring North Kensington. They state they are “committed to standing up for the residents of Holland Park and Notting Hill,” omitting North Kensington completely.

The Norland campaign literature is aimed squarely at those who already live in comfort. In the irrational borough, this group is attended to slavishly: “We need a council that has a record of standing up for residents and delivering more while costing less.”

The Tories do have a record of standing up for certain residents; the ones who don’t need anybody to stand up for them. And what has happened to those who don’t fall into that category? Take one look at Grenfell Tower for a clue. “Delivering more while costing less” is pure propaganda and doesn’t exist in the real world. It is a message to rich voters that the Tories will spend the bare minimum on statutory services.

Bins Vs Beings

Like in Kensington & Chelsea News, the Norland Tories use fear to try to galvanise voters. As there aren’t any actual threats to the wealthy of Norland, the candidates invent one: the ward is being threatened by the local Labour party, who want to make the streets dirty. They urge readers to “protect the look of Kensington and Chelsea’s streets,” vowing that if elected they will defend the “pristine condition” of Norland’s pavements “at all costs.” The scaremongering peaks with the statement: “The fate of our community will be decided by you.” Quite chilling, if your political creed is based on rubbish.

The fetishization of bin collections fills the void left by the candidates’ disinterest in communities outside the rich Tory base. Stuart Graham, a new candidate for the ward, appears well-versed in the art of political distraction, coming from the euphemistically named “political and public sector communications industry.” His website’s main picture is of the refugee-hating home secretary, while his LinkedIn shows he supported the imbecile health secretary as thousands died unnecessarily at the height of the pandemic.

Revolution

It’s a small step from spinning Patel and Hancock to representing Kensington and Chelsea council in its post-Grenfell iteration. “Let’s protect our progress” Graham and Lindsay urge. Progress? Inequality is growing in the borough, and the council, led by Campbell and deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith, has used the trauma of the fire to tighten the Conservatives’ grip on the borough.

“The successor to politics will be propaganda” – Marshall McLuhan, 1972.

“Join a team that has truly transformed this local authority over the last four years” – the Conservatives’ Norland candidates, 2022.

The only transformation here has been the Tories’ publicly funded fulfilment of McLuhan’s prophecy. The only progress the Norland candidates are pushing in their campaign is a wanky-sounding “al fresco dining revolution”.

One Kensington?

The omission of North Kensington from all the election propaganda (aside from Campbell’s weasel words) belies the Tories’ two-pronged approach to the north: exclude the area from anything but the bare minimum while tightening political control to narrow the space where independent, community-focused movements might emerge to fulfil the borough’s natural split in two.

Excluding important community issues from the political debate creates certain false impressions about who has value in society and who government should serve. Kensington Town Hall is an incubator for this irrational, divisive politics. The Norland candidates are on the bandwagon, or the bin lorry, and they’re piling on the rubbish.    

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles @urbandandyldn

THis Is North Kensington has a look at all the candidates in all the wards in this excellent blog

Review: Kensington & Chelsea News

The latest propaganda from the Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives comes in the form of a glossy A3 publication with the tagline, Community News. The Spring 2022 edition of Kensington & Chelsea News has the look of a free local newspaper but is a campaigning leaflet for the Tories ahead of next month’s council election. Its mix of policy pledges and class-conscious signaling makes clear the council’s priorities five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire. We read and analysed it so you don’t have to.

Page One

‘K & C News’ bucks the trend in these dark times by starting with a feel-good story titled “Café Society is here to stay.” The article features reassurances that locals can still object to pavement licenses being granted if noise is an issue. Even more reassuringly, K & C News informs us that Café Society will operate “from Sloane Square to Westbourne Grove,” skidding to a halt just before it gets to North Kensington. This geographical description could be a mere rhetorical flourish to name two upscale streets popular with the rich Tory voter base. Or it could be more sinister; the first signal to K & C News’s readership that the north of the borough is of little concern to the council.

The next headline is also good news but comes as a bit of a shock: “South Kensington saved by local campaign.” In my ignorance, I hadn’t known that South Kensington, the richest area in the country, faced an existential threat. The detail is that London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, wanted there to be a big glass building there, but heroic local (Conservative) councillors thwarted his plan. South Kensington was rescued from the jaws of Khan back in November, but this newspaper is campaign propaganda to remind core Tory voters and donors that the council remains devoted to them. For those who follow the politics of RBKC, particularly its public relations approach to the five years since the Grenfell Tower fire, it is interesting to be able to read a document that sets out their true priorities, however dressed up in deceit they might be…  

The big front-page headline reads “Over 2,000 residents back council’s plan to save Notting Hill police station.” Since the borough’s establishment in 1963, crime and safety have been two of the Conservatives’ priorities, reflecting the anxieties of their voters, most of whom probably own quite a lot that might be coveted by the criminally minded. A local police station is a good thing, so taken at face value, this seems like a genuinely reassuring, and vote-winning, bit of information.

Council leader Elizabeth Campbell explains that saving the station will keep more police on the streets. Confusingly, the Evening Standard reported in February that RBKC would not maintain the building as a police station, quoting Kensington MP Felicity Buchan that the building would be retained as “something that will still help residents such as a GP surgery.” Buchan doubled down on this socialist approach by explaining, “what we don’t want is for it to be bought by a property developer who would turn it into luxury flats, many of which would probably remain unoccupied”.

A bit of background: The local Conservatives have asset sweated the north of the borough, including attempted sales of the local library, college, and a community centre. Their goal was precisely what Buchan finds so unpalatable for the middle of the borough: the removal of community assets, to make way for private investments. The cut-price refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was caught in this raft of aggressive Tory moves in North Kensington as they sought to drive out poorer communities from some of the most expensive land in Britain. No mention is made of the economic imperatives that might impel the sale of community buildings by local governments.

K & C News points the finger for the jeopardy facing the beloved police station at the local Labour party: “residents are starting to ask whether Labour councillors will ever put local priorities ahead of party loyalty.” Page one’s footer sets out what the publishers believe should be our priorities, instructing readers to “vote for a greener, safer and fairer borough on 5th May.”

Page one finishes with a teaser of what’s to come over the page: a photo of a bin lorry and a photo of three men in ‘K & C Community Warden’ vests staring at an empty café, possibly confirming to each other that “Café Society is here to stay.”

Page Two

Page two keeps the momentum with another photo of people in high visibility vests. One is Elizabeth Campbell, leader of the council, holding a pair of spectacles and squinting at a man. In the background we see a skip mounted on the back of a truck and a recycling bin in the middle of the pavement. I suspect the recycling bin was positioned there for this photo opportunity as it is rare to see a misplaced bin on the back streets of Notting Hill, Holland Park, or South Ken, such is the devotion to pristine pavements. The connection between the headline – “Council protects twice-weekly bin collections” – and the accompanying photo is tenuous as no bin collections are shown. It is perhaps implied that Cllr Campbell herself, who is wearing thick gloves, is about to collect some bins, such is her commitment to this policy.

The article reflects the elevated political status of rubbish in Kensington: “Protecting twice-weekly bin collections is a top priority for local residents. And as the cost of living rises, it’s more important than ever to make sure local services deliver value for money.” This newsletter is mainly aimed at people who will not struggle with the rising cost of living. Many will probably benefit from it.

Cllr Cem Kemahli is quoted as saying “our job as councillors is to protect the high-quality services residents depend on, while keeping the low council tax residents need.” Pretty liberal use of the words “depend” and “need.” RBKC has always prided itself on keeping council tax low but now equates an extra bin collection per week and a small amount of money saved in council tax per year with meeting essential human needs. The link between twice-weekly bin collections and mitigating the rising cost of living is not explained.

The target audience is again clear: “4,000 more homes in Holland Park and Notting Hill will have access to food waste collections.” North Kensington is omitted, and the focus is pre-empting the possibility of a minor first-world inconvenience for people who don’t have actual problems.

The second story on page two describes RBKC’s “crack down on noisy vehicles,” with the council planning to roll out its use of acoustic cameras to identify drivers of very noisy vehicles to Holland Road, Chelsea Embankment and Earl’s Court Road. North Kensington, the most polluted area of the UK with an elevated dual carriageway going over it, is again excluded.

Page Three

Yet more good news: “Kensington and Chelsea improves air quality the fastest in London.” The council has pledged £100 million to “cut air pollution” and £6 million to improve parks and green spaces, including Cremorne Gardens, Cremorne Wharf and Holland Park. A new open space is included in the council’s Earls Court Masterplan. No North Kensington parks are mentioned. There is a horribly pixelated photo of the Japanese garden in Holland Park.

The next article is titled “Whole borough parking permits here to stay.” For a small borough in central London spending £100 million to cut air pollution, you’d think that discouraging driving would be the consistent and green thing to do. But as that might be slightly inconvenient for the party’s base, unnecessary driving is encouraged. The Tories provide the feel-good factor of green policies without their voters having to slum it on the bus with the hoi polloi.

K & C News spells it out: “getting around easily is a priority for residents.” Cllr Josh Rendall then adds some spin: “From nurses getting to our world class hospitals in Chelsea, to teachers travelling to our outstanding schools in Kensington, the borough permits help so many of us”.

Cllr Rendall doesn’t add that a nurse might need to drive because they don’t live anywhere near their workplace. The average nurse’s salary is £33,384 (Royal College of Nursing figure). If they paid zero tax, spent no money, and worked for 140 years they would be able to buy an average-priced house (Foxtons figure) near one of the hospitals in Chelsea.

People who do dedicated and skilled work that benefits other people are the ones impacted by the unfolding cost-of-living crisis. Tory voters in Holland Park are not impacted. Yet the council’s political project is to slavishly attend to the latter group at the expense of the former. This is well understood, and K & C News can be seen as a signal to inform the public that this power imbalance is in safe hands.

The token mention of Grenfell Tower appears on page three. It is titled ‘Grenfell Update’ and consists of one sentence from Cllr Campbell:

“Continued support and meaningful recovery for the communities most affected by the Grenfell tragedy will be at the heart of everything we do.”

That sentence barely reaches the level of a sick joke, but to the target audience, it perhaps satisfies their curiosity regarding Grenfell recovery.

Far from being “at the heart of everything” the council does, Grenfell recovery is not touched by a single policy or priority mentioned across the four pages of K & C News.

Page three finishes with the first bit of pan-borough news: every RBKC neighbourhood will get its own “dedicated community warden” who will focus on “anti-social behaviour.” The article conflates this policy with the Tories saving the police station (but not really) story; Cllr Emma Will explains that “a visible police presence is really important” but doesn’t explain what hiring a few community wardens has to do with it.  

Page Four

The final page has two news items. First, “Council works to protect residents from cost of living rise” in which North Kensington finally gets a mention. Unfortunately, the article links poor people and their capacity to stay above the poverty line to RBKC’s commitment to low council tax. The real beneficiaries of the low council tax policy are the wealthy people the publication is aimed at, who save a few pounds a year, many probably pay little to no income tax and enjoy huge passive incomes from the most unproductive sectors of our economy. Cllr Campbell’s naming of the actual victims of the government’s cost of living crisis – “teachers to street cleaners, young families to pensioners” – is inserted to ameliorate any uncomfortable thoughts entering the minds of the Tory voters. ‘We’re all in it together, this policy that benefits me is also benefiting the poor.’

“Holding Thames Water to account” is the final chapter of this RBKC fiction. It refers to the July 2021 floods when “residents’ homes across Holland Park and Notting Hill were seriously affected by flooding.” Again, the north is omitted despite being hit hard by the floods. “The council plans to implement sustainable drainage schemes in Holland Park and Notting Hill” but not in North Ken.

Kensington & Chelsea News finishes its Spring 2022 edition with 10 election pledges from the Conservatives. One would have sufficed: ‘We’ll protect the status quo.’

None of the ten policies have anything to do with “continued support and meaningful recovery for the communities most affected by the Grenfell tragedy.” The cosmetic approach taken to this most serious issue signals to the Tory base that the Conservatives will continue to prioritise their quality of life over everything else. And to the rest of us, the message is clear: ‘Your recovery is over – our class war has just begun…’

What’s Missing?   

In politics, what isn’t said is as telling as what is. This is certainly true with the council’s latest PR publication. Its newspaper-style format suggests that the content is meant to be accepted as the natural order of things rather than a series of political choices.

North Kensington and the other impoverished neighbourhoods of Earl’s Court and the World’s End are virtually ignored while the interests of people who have no actual problems expand to fill the space, like the fishes in the Kyoto Garden. Hypothetical inconveniences to wealthy residents are attended to assiduously while actual problems, like the absence of any justice following the Grenfell fire, are not considered worthy of coverage.

Also missing are serious political leadership and vision. A confident leadership with a serious political project would seek to take their base along with them in pursuit of higher goals, innovation, and genuine change.

RBKC’s leaders have internalised their own propaganda and believe that North Kensington’s recovery is omnipresent in everything they do. Not a single Grenfell-related policy is mentioned in the publication, yet we’re told it is “the heart” of the Tories’ policies. This is Orwell’s doublethink – holding contradictory positions and believing them both to be true.  

A party that was serious about serving all communities in the borough would take steps to address the scandalous levels of impoverishment in K and C. The legwork has been done for them, in Kensington & Chelsea Foundation’s report on poverty and Emma Dent Coad’s report on the borough’s economic, social, educational and health inequality. Both were published after the 2018 local elections but neither has impacted the ruling party’s priorities.

Five years on from the Grenfell fire, the Conservatives’ masquerade of humility and ‘change’ is largely gone, and their propaganda now reflects this.

Kensington & Chelsea News, promoted by Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives, is out now.

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Colin Hall, Holland Park School, the Council, Power and the Media

Colin Hall, the Marmite headteacher of Holland Park School will retire at the end of this academic year having led the school for 21 years, a third of its history. Outstanding Ofsteds and the best-paid head in the country, but Hall leaves with a tarnished legacy. Just down the road from the school is Kensington Town Hall, where those who have overseen the council’s deficient response to the Grenfell Tower fire are still comfortably in positions of power. Hall’s reckoning contrasts with RBKC’s Taylor-Smith, Campbell, and Quirk, who have sailed through on a wave of spin with no media pushback against their running of the richest, most unequal local authority in the country.

HPS

News of resignations and appointments at Holland Park have been arriving in parents’ inboxes. The big one was provided, using death announcement vocabulary, by newly installed chair of governors Jane Farrell on 29th September: 

20210929031338686_LetterfromChairofTrusteesHollandParkSchool

Among the other resignations was former head of Lehman Brothers and major donor to the Conservative party, Michael Tory. Nominative determinism now exhausted, it seems that HPS will embrace a more centrist liberal inclusive philosophy with Farrell as chair of governors and the new New Labour-supporting Bercows representing the parents. The major turning point for the HPS old guard was an article in The Guardian last month by Fiona Millar, wife of Alistair Campbell.

There are obvious dots to be joined but there might be nothing more to this new centrist liberal power theme at HPS than coincidence. After all, the articles in The Guardian and The Times were served up by a highly organised campaign by former pupils and staff determined to expose what they call a “culture of humiliation.”

Strange

Two investigations are underway at the school, one independent and one by RBKC. Expect much to be added to the list of alleged abuses brought to the public’s knowledge by the Former HPS collective.

Yelling at children through a megaphone is both strange and abusive, as is sending the naughty children to the adventure playground on Southern Row so the mock Ofsted inspectors didn’t have to see them, and so is putting up ‘Wanted’ posters of unknowing children for their ‘Grade Ds in all subjects’.

The audio of a teacher screaming at children, recorded this month, is grim, but apparently the norm, and when this is considered alongside Mr Hall’s propensity to deliver long assemblies on the subject of himself, even to sixth formers on their final day, it suggests not just an abuse of power, but also an understanding among pupils and staff the power being abused is absolute and unchallengeable. From a distance HPS is surreal and eccentric, but if you’re there every day it’s real and normalised.

Still, these revelations alone, if they had happened in a more ‘normal’ comprehensive not on inner London billionaires’ row, would not have been enough to arouse the interest of The Guardian. Mr Hall is a complex headteacher, and plenty of parents like him and his approach, the way he sets about instilling high standards (at least aesthetically) for students. Will The Guardian follow the story as it moves on?

RBKC   

And what of The Guardian‘s silence on RBKC’s ongoing, very public failings? Holland Park is one of the schools that suffered from the entirely avoidable fire at Grenfell Tower, and Holland Park families continue to suffer under the local council also facing accusations of failure to meet its duty of care.

The difference? Perhaps RBKC’s 13-strong crack team of PR spinners pulling the wool, enabled by an establishment media staffed by journalists who consider the social order of Kensington, the haves and the have nots, as natural, or, at best, an opportunity for virtue signaling.

More detail on that another time, but it’s clear that The Guardian and the other establishment outlets have the power to tip the balance in certain situations, and there is enough evidence that RBKC has betrayed the Grenfell victims repeatedly and deliberately to justify serious analysis by the nation’s media.

£

Hall’s retirement was announced the same week that the Pandora Papers revealed that Kensington is home to billions of pounds worth of property owned by tax dodging members of the one percent. If I was aiming for power via Keir Starmer’s Labour party I probably wouldn’t want to piss off potential donors like Michael Tory by empowering North Kensington residents who might demand more democracy or even devolved power locally. 

The Guardian gave a platform to the once voiceless of Holland Park School. That is good. But they don’t challenge other unaccountable power nearby. 

The previous leadership of RBKC fell because they disrespected the mainstream media, trying to lock them out of a council meeting, something the government knew was a no-no. The despised social cleansers, Paget and Mellen, were made to resign and the pressure on the Tories eased. Their heirs at RBKC have been untroubled by an indifferent, ignorant media…

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

2020 Vision: RBKC & North Kensington

“This Council – its policies, its leadership, its senior people and its culture – has changed.”

Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, Leader and
Barry Quirk, Chief Executive
Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, March 2020

 

Since June 2017, Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) has claimed to be undergoing a culture transformation. This website has shown that this assertion is untrue; that public money has been spent to thwart resident empowerment, while austerity spending cuts have been imposed on vital services. Two strategies used by RBKC to frustrate North Kensington’s development have been manipulation through public relations and divide-and-rule of the community. We tackle both here, exposing the PR con using contributions from local people who have stayed faithful to the ideals of community through three traumatic years and have come together to produce this piece.

Background

In this article, we update our challenge to RBKC over its claims to have changed following the Grenfell Tower fire. Since June 14th, 2017, we have presented an evidence-based rebuttal to the council, revealing a fraud perpetrated against residents by RBKC before, during and since that crisis. Not once has RBKC disputed our criticisms with evidence. While we have provided real-life examples of serious failings, the council’s response has been to parrot their ‘change’ mantra.

This update was planned before the Coronavirus had impacted daily life so severely. Many people have been quick to predict that positive political, economic, social, philosophical and cultural transformations will spring from the crisis. We believe that only unified, grassroots action changes things and that adversarial journalism is indispensable in this.

1

 

RBKC’s Change Policy

By Tom Charles

The Conservative leadership of RBKC lives in an altered reality. On the ground: no change; in their press releases and public utterances: change. It seems that truth is not important, careful PR management is. RBKC remains intractable in this approach, typified in the quote above from the leader and chief executive of the richest local authority in the country. Over the past three years, we have published the following stories, exposing the lie of Campbell and Quirk, two functionaries for a rotten council that needed root and branch change… Continue reading

North Ken in Limbo

North Kensington is in a state of political, legal and emotional limbo. How and why? Here are summaries of some of the stories already published and the arguments already won….

This article contains references to the 14th June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

Two Significant Events 

After the initial post-fire outpouring of grief, energy and hope, things have slowed to a crawl in North Kensington. The most significant developments have been with the Conservative leadership of the council (RBKC); its survival and consolidation of power.

Neither of these things was inevitable, with RBKC having to make promises of “change” to stay in power, then having to break the promises to prevent the dilution of its power in the north of the borough.

 

 

 

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Two More 

Two things will happen soon which could impact the current unsatisfactory and traumatising deadlock in North Kensington: The first is on October 9th when Kensington Labour party Councillors launch a People’s Convention in a bid to undercut RBKC’s business-as-usual approach.

This push for a greater say in decision making for Northern residents will be ignored by the Council, who will kick any devolution proposal into the long grass when Labour and groups of residents persist. Expect RBKC to employ its tried and tested bureaucratic mechanisms, outlined in detail in our previous article.

The Labour-led campaign for modest devolution is augmented by other moves aimed at balancing RBKC’s power with a more prominent role for residents.

Lynton Crosby-style tactics of calculating the absolute minimum they need to appear to be doing to pacify the population have carried RBKC this far. But their latest recovery gimmick, a gameshow-style decision-making process to distribute Grenfell-related funds, has only added to the sense that the local authority is unable to act in the interests of residents they hold in contempt.

Along with the devolution push, the upcoming findings of the Tutu Foundation’s investigation into alleged institutional racism, and the selection of a new Chair, at the Westway Trust could revive the sense that North Kensington is an area still alive with the ability to force justice and political change in the face of entrenched power structures.

The second upcoming event is the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in January 2020. Phase two will consider the design, refurbishment, fire safety and management of Grenfell Tower. It will also look at how the authorities communicated with residents, the immediate causes of the fire and the response to the fire by the relevant bodies.

The ability or otherwise of this phase of the Inquiry to move towards genuine justice will go a long way to determining whether North Kensington will ever be given the space it needs to recover from its collective and individual trauma.

While we wait for events to unfold, here are some truths that have been laid bare by our scrutiny of RBKC’s post-Grenfell performance so far:

1. The Tories Do Not Want to Change

The Kensington Conservatives will not change their approach any more than they have to. That much is evident from their performance since June 2017.

The post-fire Kensington Tories were smart enough to promise change. Without that promise, they might well have been removed or put into special measures by the national government. But the council’s record before the fire was so abysmal here in North Kensington that their piecemeal approach to change since has fallen woefully short of satisfying anybody.

Some people split hairs about RBKC’s performance over the past two years and identify some individual Tory Councillors or Council officers who at times appear sincere. This is probably more a reflection of how unbearable it is for some to acknowledge the reality of an uncaring culture operating within an indifferent system. Can it really be that after 72 deaths and widespread trauma, that there is no real change to either the rules or the power balance? Rather than face the harsh reality of the answer, some choose the palliative of picking out hopeful signs of potential change.

The Tory promise of change was followed by political maneuvers to deny this change actually happening, highlighted on this website over the past two years, see the links below. The logic for this is that there is more incentive for the Tories to not change than to change. To alter the power balance, even a little bit, would dilute Tory power in Kensington and might set an ideological precedent for other downtrodden areas to demand their own devolution and liberation.

On an individual level, these Councillors’ future careers as property developers, consultants (to property developers) and politicians (representing big capital – including property developers) hinge on their loyalty to one class at the expense of another. No horror changes this equation.

So while the people of North Kensington are retraumatised by unmet promises, RBKC has been able to get back to business-as-usual, with enough superficial ‘change’ peppering their work to satisfy the national government (represented by the implausibly meek Grenfell taskforce) and to convince themselves that they are doing good deeds on behalf of the ungrateful hordes.

2. Post-Grenfell Systems are Structurally Weak

RBKC cannot be persuaded or pleaded with to change. They could only be coerced by a rigorous system of checks and balances, so they avoid such a system. As we detailed in our investigation, How RBKC Subverts Democracy to Prevent Change, the policies put in place following the worst fire in Britain since World War Two lacked an implementation mechanism – it was left to the goodwill of Councillors with vested interests in keeping the status quo.

The Conservatives in Kensington Town Hall have manipulated the political system to avoid scrutiny. This is outlined, blow by blow, in our article. To do this was a political choice made by Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, her deputy Cllr Taylor-Smith and a host of highly-paid RBKC officers, starting with chief executive Barry Quirk and including many under him who have been complicit.

Nationally, the Conservatives need the Council in place. And at this point, Labour doesn’t see Grenfell as a big vote winner. Where is their outreach? Where is their mayor?

3. Trauma is Being Perpetuated

People in North Kensington have engaged with the process but have been re-traumatised and exhausted by their efforts being met with a lack of tangible change. They might not know what change looks like (revolution, devolution, evolution…), but they know what it isn’t.

A lack of seriousness when it comes to delivering change in North Kensington has left us in this purgatory, unable to move on. There is no argument about where the blame lies for this failure. 

Attention now falls on political and legal efforts to deliver change and justice to a community that deserves both.   

 

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Related previous articles:

Trauma: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/05/20/trauma/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.1: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/02/08/rbkc-council-selling-vital-community-aset/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt. 2: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/03/16/councilcanalside/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.3: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/10/02/rbkc-bites-back-canalside/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.4: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/12/07/canalside-curiouser/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.5: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/11/07/change-1/

‘Change’ @ Lancaster Youth: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/01/31/change2/

‘Change’ @ The Curve: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/03/18/curve/

‘Change’ @ KCTMO: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/11/16/kctmo1/

RBKC Scrutiny 1, GU: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/19/scrutiny-1/

RBKC Scrutiny 2: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/19/scrutiny-2/

RBKC Scrutiny 3, Administration Committee / Scrapping Grenfell Scrutiny: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/20/scrutiny-3/

RBKC & Toxins, THINK post for UD: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/10/17/grenfell-air-myers/

Unholy Trinity – RBKC, TMO, WT: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/02/05/unholytrinity-2/

All Grenfell-related articles: https://urbandandylondon.com/category/grenfell/

 

 

 

How RBKC Subverts Democracy to Prevent Change

This article is a defence of the principles of democracy and transparency – people’s right to know what is being done in their name and with their money. It examines Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC)’s claim that fundamental changes are being made in response to the Grenfell Tower fire of June 14th 2017, which killed 72 people. The analysis focuses on RBKC’s Twelve Principles of Good Governance policy. Council documents have revealed that the Twelve Principles policy has not been implemented and Councillors have not been held accountable for this despite the rising financial cost to the public. The Twelve Principles seem to have been lost in a haze of bureaucracy; we examine how the Conservative council’s grip on power in Kensington has been tightened and what this means for North Kensington.    

This article is divided into three sections. Section one introduces RBKC’s change policy. Section two exhaustively uses council meeting minutes to show how people’s hopes for change being realised were deliberately dashed. Section three draws a number of conclusions and includes a response from the council’s leader.  

1. The Review – RBKC’s Policy for Change

In 2017 the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS), – the national centre of expertise on governance and scrutiny – were commissioned, with funding by the Local Government Association (LGA), to carry out an independent review of RBKC. The local authority welcomed the CfPS’s subsequent report and adopted “12 principles of good governance we should embed in the council.” The Twelve Principles were bespoke; designed specifically for RBKC to act on its professed claims that they sought to “change” following the Grenfell Tower fire.

The principles:

  1. “Connecting with Residents”
  2. “Focusing on What Matters”
  3. “Listening to Many Voices”
  4. “Acting with Integrity”
  5. “Involving Before Deciding”
  6. “Communicating What We Are Doing”
  7. “Inviting Residents to Take Part”
  8. “Being Clearly Accountable”
  9. “Responding Fairly to Everyone’s Needs”
  10. “Working as Team”
  11. “Managing Responsibly”
  12. “Having the support we need”

The Democratic Society (Demsoc) supported CfPS in researching and writing the report over a period of six weeks. Their role: “Demsoc have helped to reach out to residents, asking about their experiences of being involved in decision making processes by the Council, and how involvement can be increased and improved in the future. This has been done by gathering evidence through surveys, desktop research and observing meetings, as well as talking face to face with focus groups and workshops”.

Urban Dandy understands that, given the scale of the work, the time frame was considered too tight by Demsoc.

The council’s own report endorsing the CfPS recommendations was titled ‘CHANGE AT THE COUNCIL: THE COUNCIL’S RESPONSE TO THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF GOVERNANCE’ (their capitals) and came four months after the independent review, with RBKC stating: “the council recognises that it (sic) essential to put these principles into practice.” The council’s leadership were to be held to account on this by RBKC’s Executive and Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee.

The council leaders who held the relevant portfolios and who endorsed the report were Elizabeth Campbell (leader) and Cllr Gerard Hargreaves (responsible for Communities and Culture), both of whom were cabinet members prior to the Grenfell Tower fire. It was the fire that prompted RBKC to commission the review and so it is right that the council’s success in applying its Twelve Principles be measured against the gravity of what happened at Grenfell Tower.

It is worth dwelling briefly on the role played by Campbell, who, on becoming leader of RBKC a month after the Grenfell fire, promised change. In a brief speech to fellow councillors and victims of the fire in July 2017, Campbell used the word ‘change’ eleven times. Her words are particularly significant given her key role in the decision to adopt the Twelve Principles as policy and in the subsequent roll-out of the policy.

COST

In correspondence with Urban Dandy the CfPS confirmed the amount of the grant paid to them and Demsoc to cover the cost of the review: Continue reading

Urban Dandy Exclusive: The True Cost of RBKC’s ‘Change’ Programme

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How does a local authority go from being a national embarrassment on the verge of special measures to being secure in its position and back to business-as-usual in under two years?

The 2017 Grenfell Tower fire was the worst domestic fire in Britain since world war two and it happened in the richest borough in the country. Seventy-two lives were taken, more have been lost in the fall-out. There have been no arrests of politicians, council officers or others who made fateful decisions and ignored warnings in the run-up to the fire.

In 2018 Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) commissioned the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Democratic Society to carry out a review of the Council and to produce recommendations to enable the local authority to move forward. The ‘Change’ programme that resulted has suffered from a severe lack of public scrutiny and has been anything but democratic…

Urban Dandy uses RBKC’s own documents to reveal how the Council adopted a policy known as the Twelve Principles of Good Governance, then proceeded to bury it in a complex bureaucratic system. The article shows how opportunities to apply the principles were spurned, and worse, how Councillors often seemed determined to ensure there would be no real change.

Overseeing the process has been the leader of RBKC, Elizabeth Campbell, who promised ‘change’ to survivors and the bereaved but who has appeared at key moments and in key meetings to help ensure no fundamental change has been implemented. We are awaiting comment from her on her role and the performance of her Council in delivering on her promises.

We also reveal the rising costs of the ‘Change’ programme, the methods by which RBKC has managed to stifle meaningful challenge to its approach and how they have been aided by the media and the national government. Questions are also raised about the role of the local Labour party and we look at the calls for devolution for North Kensington.

The article is a defence of democracy and transparency in Kensington and will be published at the start of September.

Our previous articles following this story can be found here.

 

@urbandandyLDN @tomhcharles

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. Continue reading

RBKC Scrutiny #1 Grenfell United in Parliament

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There have been plenty of significant developments in North Kensington as Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) and the local population continue to 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. Continue reading