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/

 

 

 

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 #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. Continue reading

RBKC Scrutiny #1 Grenfell United 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. Continue reading

Change at RBKC? Case study 2

As reported previously, the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) were commissioned to undertake an independent review of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) in July 2018 following the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017, in which 72 people died. The CfPS made a number of recommendations which the council voluntarily agreed to adopt, including twelve recommended “principles of good governance.” We put RBKC’s adherence to their principles to the test with the first case study: the North Kensington community building, Canalside House. RBKC was found wanting, but will they fare any better as we look at Lancaster Youth Club?

 

CfPS

The main criticism of the CfPS independent review is that it provides very little in terms of effective tools to hold the Council to account…It seems the Council heard these critics and responded to say, “the council recognises that it (sic) essential to put these principles into practice.”.  However, the story of Canalside House (where community groups were told their building would be demolished and turned into luxury flats) demonstrated that RBKC are really struggling to stay true to their word on this.

The council has a plan of action.  Unfortunately, it seems to involve demolishing a lot of buildings purposed for community use.  Canalside House was not the only community space at threat of closure. Lancaster Youth Club, located by the crossroads of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road, neighbouring two private schools (Chepstow House and Notting Hill Preparatory,) the historic North Ken library and the bohemian 19th century pub the KPH (now sold to property speculators,) was also threatened with demolition two years ago. Lancaster Youth Club is not far from Grenfell Tower in the north of the borough and a real asset for young people in an area where community space is at a premium. 

In 2017, the council proposed that the Youth Club be demolished (sound familiar?). According to RBKC: ‘the building whilst generally fit for purpose, is not energy efficient and is relatively costly to run for its size.’ The demolition of Lancaster Youth Club did not occur in 2017 as plans for regeneration were put on hold after the Grenfell Tower fire.  The space has lay empty ever since and Deputy Leader of RBKC, Kim Taylor-Smith rejected refurbishment work that would have made the building operational again. 

At the same time, the community has increased its provision to meet demand and community space is needed more than ever. EPIC, the Community Interest Company currently commissioned to run the centre, have had their contract extended until September 2019 when the Council will announce all newly commissioned youth services in the borough. Meanwhile, dust is left to accumulate at Lancaster Youth Club and workers do not know what will happen to the space or if their jobs are safe, but we are told to not be so cynical as the council has a plan. 

The Plan

The youth review, painstakingly carried out during 2018, claims that “young people were also involved in co-designing youth services” but it is expected that ultimately RBKC’s offer will be derisory due to the local authority’s commitment to austerity. Already it is clear that there will be very little space afforded to North Kensington’s young people, many of whom live in acute poverty in overcrowded accommodation[i].

thumbnail_20190131_111736
Gated Community – Lancaster Youth Club, currently unused, with an uncertain future

The Strategy for Redesign and Implementation of Youth Services states that the new youth offer ‘will consist of two main youth hub sites; one in the North of the Borough (Lancaster Road area), and one in the South (in Chelsea Riverside ward) and five youth club sites.’  Reading between the lines, it seems Lancaster Youth Club might be re-purposed as a youth ‘hub’ and is perhaps safe from demolition for now, but the real question is why young people, residents and community groups have not been kept in the loop? Why is the council not abiding by the principles it promised to adopt not just in theory but in practice?

A reminder of the principles: 

  1. “Connecting with Residents”
  1. “Focusing on What Matters”
  1. “Listening to Many Voices”
  1. “Acting with Integrity”
  1. “Involving Before Deciding”
  1. “Communicating What We Are Doing”
  1. “Inviting Residents to Take Part”
  1. “Being Clearly Accountable”
  1. “Responding Fairly to Everyone’s Needs”
  1. “Working as Team”
  1. “Managing Responsibly”
  1. “Having the support we need” (not relevant here as it only applies to internal RBKC issues)

 

Change?

In the case of Lancaster Youth, as with Canalside House, RBKC has willfully ignored its principles of good governance. CfPS offers no useful mechanism for ensuring change in the council’s approach.

The national government’s Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, made up of four members, who report directly to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, similarly have no power to insist upon real change. They appear unaware of the 12 Principles, which do not feature in its latest report, which is little more than a whitewash, focusing on procedure rather than people. It fails to mention the Lancaster Youth Club or Canalside House, let alone discuss the needs of those who benefit from the services provided at each.

When the issue of the youth review was raised with a Taskforce member by the governors of The Curve, he responded by suggesting that North Kensington should be grateful that there is a youth service at all. The Curve is another community space that seems likely to be either abandoned by the council or expected to limp on with severe budget cuts in 2019.

This from a council that has spent in excess of £400 million on its own political survival since the fire. Now they are secure, will they deliver on any of the promised change? Or is North Kensington in a new phase of austerity and impoverishment?

Conclusion

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

 

By Anonymous*

 

*The author who submitted this article to Urban Dandy asked to remain anonymous to avoid any prejudicial attitudes being shown towards her community-based organisation by RBKC councillors or staff.

 

Some edits and additional information by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

 

[i] Overcrowding in the Golborne ward, which Lancaster Youth Club borders, is at 68% https://urbandandylondon.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/after-grenfell-inequality-report.pdf

Canalside: Curiouser and Curiouser

Rumours of Canalside House’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. By the building’s owner, Kensington and Chelsea council…

CSH
Canalside House on Ladbroke Grove in North Kensington

 

Latest News

At the December 3rd Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee meeting at Kensington Town Hall, RBKC planning officers stated that the “demolition” of Canalside House that Conservative councillors had been pushing for is not necessary. Continue reading

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. Continue reading