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

Ode to Hereward

Tonight the chariots

are running through my head

destroying without mercy…

 

Truly my crime is great,

for in dreams and visions

I have spied the promised land…

 

Scales dropping from internal eyes

like dead men’s pennies

snatched by the Styx ferryman…

Freedom gained through truth

Jericho walls of falsehood, delusion, illusion

crashing down

 

Seeking refuge in the sea of reeds

for a year and a day

my home with birds…

Pursuers now vanishing

like mist over the Fen

melted by the morning sun

 

The great Wake rising

his fire burning within my soul

refining – purifying

cauterizing greed’s gangrene

of the noble lie

where introspection is reduced

to echo-chamber confirmations

inside the minds of those that rule

 

Babylon’s cruelty thriving

in the darkest hearts of men

devoid of conscience, love or pity…

 

DrzMhAZWsAEDi1m
Picture from twitter.com/wakehereward

 

M.C. Bolton, February 2019

Westway Trust CEOs & Bay 20 Exclusive

In 2018, Urban Dandy was the recipient of an apparent leak regarding the Westway Trust. Emailing anonymously and identifying themselves only as “someone recently connected with the Trust” the whistle blower presented us with a “summary of events” that allegedly led to the Trust’s 2018 CEO appointments, its decision to allow the BBC to build at Bay 20 for the DIY SOS Grenfell specials and the overlap between these two stories.

A bit of background…

What is the Westway Trust?

The Westway Trust (formerly North Kensington Amenities Trust) is responsible for one mile / 23 acres of land under the Westway section of the A40 in North Kensington, crossing Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove, passing close to the Grenfell Tower and ending at Latimer Road. This custodianship began when the Westway was opened in 1970. The Trust’s remit is to ensure the land is used for the benefit of the local community as compensation for the concrete eye sore that dominates, darkens and pollutes the areas underneath it.

westway protest
photo from Westway 23 website

Westway Trust’s relationship with the local community is a complex one. The Trust provides vital services, including spaces for charities and supplementary schools. However, there is rancour among many local residents at aspects of the Trust’s work and approach, some of which has been covered by us, see the links at the end of the article. The Westway Trust is currently undergoing a review by the Tutu Foundation following claims of institutional racism.

What is Bay 20?

Bay 20 is one small section of the land under the A40 in the care of the Westway Trust and had remained undeveloped by the Trust. The space was once used by Carnival Industrial Enterprise as a steel pan yard; highly skilled musicians would make and tune pans, maintaining important local heritage and offering apprenticeships. This was abandoned by the Trust who inserted an art installation: a bleached-purple moonscape, which remained the only inhabitant of Bay 20 for over a decade.

The BBC built two community spaces on Bay 20 in 2018: one was the Dale Youth boxing club, a replacement for the facility destroyed in the June 14th 2017 Grenfell fire; the other a community centre and meeting space, to be run by a community operator, not the Westway Trust due to its historic inability to secure the confidence of the local population. The building work and subsequent grand openings were subjects of the BBC prime time programme, DIY SOS. There were serious concerns raised about the BBC’s involvement at Bay 20 including over the light tone of the programmes and the fact that community land was being used to replace a gym lost in an entirely preventable fire. See the links at the end of the article for more.

Bay 20’s close proximity to Grenfell Tower and the fact that it lay unused made it an attractive choice for the BBC to tell a Grenfell-related story.

bay20-westway-21
Bay 20 before the BBC development

Who leaked the stories to us?

Our Mr/Ms X said that for legal reasons (Westway Trust has confidentiality agreements with staff and trustees) they could not go on the record with what they called their “summary” of events.

We had no way of verifying X’s credentials, but we checked the information with another person “recently connected with the Trust” and they responded that “this guy is so right!!”

X told us: “I have been connected with the Westway Trust for a number of years, I was appalled by Angela McConville the last CEO of the Trust and further appalled, that when she left she was given a glowing endorsement by Alan Brown (Westway Trust Chair) and a hefty chunk of her bonus – allegedly £12k.”

the_trust
A Westway Trust AGM, photo from Westway 23 website

There is more background on Angela McConville’s time at Westway Trust here.

Allegations

X presented us with some allegations against the Westway Trust:

  • The Trust conducted a CEO appointment process that was deliberately closed and “directly connected” to sealing a deal with the BBC for Bay 20
  • Of the two members of the four-person Westway Trust Executive Team who argued for an open CEO appointment process, one left with immediate effect while the other was being “performance managed” out at the time of the leak. The other two executive members are now the joint CEOs
  • The BBC wanted maximum value for its ‘Grenfell special’ and so made two programmes rather than the usual one, leading to a halving of the potential space used for the new community centre

Closed Process

X told us:

“Many hoped both inside and outside of WT that there would be a chance of a new approach, fresh ideas and a fresh beginning (a promised CEO selection with an open process at last December’s (2017’s) AGM – this promise was recorded by Westway 23) – Many were completely devastated to understand very recently that the WT chair and board, with the aid of the interim CEOs, had decided to undertake a “closed and secret internal process” to appoint (from interim role to permanent) as joint CEOs.”

The joint CEOs appointed in 2018 were Mark Lockhart and Alex Russell., 

X: “Mark Lockhart (at WT for 25 years), was involved from one bad administration to the next. Alex Russell – who Angela McConville recruited and personally mentored – is from a professional private sector Communications Consultancy and was hired to gain the upper hand in the comms war (as Angela saw it) with the Community.      

“The Westway Trust Chair and the Westway Board (not including the community trustee who completed her resignation in protest at such a closed process) decided against the promised “Open and Inclusive Process” of CEO appointment, and instead decided to pursue a closed campaign to appoint long serving Mark Lockhart (who knows where the bodies are buried!) and Alex Russell. They are both seen as a safe pair of hands who will not make any radical changes at the Trust.

“Post Grenfell and with the BBC DIY/SOS sniffing around the area for a Grenfell branded project, the BBC proposition for Bay 20 was seen by the two interim CEO’s as a “gold-plated opportunity” to make their role’s permanent (within a closed system of appointment and with an absence of competition), by rapidly developing a site that had remained dormant for some 47 years. Thereby impressing their paymasters and appointers on the Board and giving Alan Brown an immediate good news story – much needed after his glowing endorsement of Angela McConville’s tenure.

“The interim CEOs seized upon the BBC need for the DIY/SOS light entertainment show and threw their full energy behind the Bay 20 project, diverting WT resources to make it happen, they wanted success and to impress at all costs…to show the Board that they could deliver a development (any development) and that’s why there was no community consultation.

“Unfortunately, this ambition was at all costs, they conceded on point after point to the BBC and encouraged the BBC to stick with the project despite very mixed community sentiment, they ploughed on, not listening to the displeasure of their own staff and the doubts of other stakeholders – that this project was not representative of the Community, was in bad taste and could be seen as exploitative of the Grenfell disaster. They sold out the land (and community) in a heartbeat (for their own self-promotion), land that had been left unused and wasted by the Trust for the last 47 years.”

Departures

X: “There were four members of the Trust Executive Team, including the two current CEOs, the other two Executive Directors advocated strongly for an open process. One has now left (by immediate agreement), the second one is currently being performance managed out the door…”

BBC Role

X: “The BBC wanted to get their money’s worth and make “two (DIY SOS) programmes,” the interim CEOs gave them two buildings – one for each programme. That explains the curious design – two buildings with a big road through the middle which serves no purpose but to make two TV programmes for DIY SOS. No matter that the one third of the site is not developed and could have been used to “double the size of the Community Room building” (does this really make best use of a charity asset?) – the BBC demanded, and the Trust CEOs willingly gave, to keep them from walking away. This would be Mark Lockhart and Alex Russell’s crowning project, one that would surely confirm their permanent CEO appointment and keep the process closed to competition and safeguard the Trust from change. 

“The CEOs also willingly signed-off all the building contract “defects liability” clauses to allow Galliard Homes (the builder) to leave them completely free of any responsibility on putting right defects over the first year of operation despite knowing that the building was being thrown-up in double quick time. Galliard Homes now have no liability to come back and put defects right! Defects will be paid for out of the Trust’s coffers – No matter! – continue building…’we need to impress.’

“The builders built the overhang too low – no matter – let’s build round it on Maxilla Gardens – screw the environment to build over some of the grass on Maxilla Garden.  No consultation or community publicity for this additional planning submission…”  

X ‘s Summary

X gave his/her summary: “This is a very sad story…leaving the Community unconsulted and exploited again! And the Grenfell legacy “exploited” to serve an ambition of becoming a CEO of the Westway Trust – it’s ironic that for 47 years Bay 20 remained a wasted asset, despite community representations and then when it really suited those in power it was all hastily made to happen!  

“It is a clear example of how secrecy and one bad decision leads to another and another….           

“BUT it worked! The Westway Trust Board and Chair now has two new permanent CEOs appointed in a closed process and in the most terrible fashion.

“This is all terrible, however there is a bigger story of how a ‘closed CEO process’ gives rise to many a bad decision, concealment of the Truth and was actually a “key driver” of WT getting into bed so quickly with the BBC DIY SOS, concealing bad decisions and arriving with the peculiar, inefficient design of two buildings and the curious internal road that takes up a third of the site…..very wasteful”.

thumbnail_20190111_093901
Left to right: Bay 20 Community building; gap; Dale Youth boxing gym
thumbnail_20190111_111449
Inside the Bay 20 Community Centre

Westway Trust Response

Charles Howgego, spokesman for the Westway Trust responded to X’s claims:

On the allegation that the Trust conducted a CEO appointment process that was deliberately closed and “directly connected” to sealing a deal with the BBC for Bay 20:

“This was not the case… there was never any discussion about how the BBC project would impact the making of those appointments…the Board of Trustees would never make an appointment based on one project such as the BBC build, a project with no guarantees until it was built particularly given the voluntary basis on which people involved were working.

“During this time Mark and Alex also impressed the board with the strategy they put forward of community first, of openness and responsiveness, and it was felt that was what the Trust needed to mend relationships with some parts of the community, and to create an organisation that works with and for the community – an approach that has seen some notable developments already:

  • The commissioning of Tutu Foundation’s institutional racism review
  • The establishment of the Charity Purposes Community to oversee community benefit in our projects
  • Change in approach to property development making it more community-determined
  • A new staff council to democratise decision-making
  • A new Equalities Working Group and a new focus on equality and diversity training
  • Establishing a steering group of local people to run the Bay 20 community centre (who will shortly appoint a local operator)
  • All grant making now devolved to local people”.

On the claim that the the two non-CEO members of the four-person Westway Trust Executive Team who argued for an open CEO appointment process left because of the CEO recruitment process:

“It is true one member of the executive team felt disappointed by the Board’s decision and resigned a month after. It is absolutely not the case that another person was being performance managed – that second member of the executive team left the organisation when roles were reorganised around current activities and the new strategy, and they declined to take on one of the new positions created.”

On the BBC’s making of two ‘Grenfell special’ allegedly ‘halving’ the space used for the new community centre:

“The BBC approached us with proposals for building a boxing gym and a community centre. There was never a proposal on the table to build one big community centre that was then halved.

“The BBC approached the Trust in September 2017 and we engaged with the community throughout November. The BBC wanted to move at a faster pace than we would have liked but it was decided that a community-run community space and a new home for Dale Youth Boxing Club would be an amazing opportunity”.

Profound Change

The Westway Trust told us: “The Board has sanctioned a programme of profound change in the Trust’s approach to its work, which is an ongoing process. The Trust’s constitution is being reviewed next year as part of this new approach and will create further change.

“The Trust has been accused of a lack of transparency and this has been a key driver in the changes undertaken by the new leadership team. Openness is now one of the Trust’s operating values and it is encumbent on all Trust staff to be open, to engage and consult wherever possible”.

 

Links to Previous Westway Trust and Bay 20 Stories

Relationship with the community:

Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four

Urban Dandy interview with Westway Trust regarding Portobello Development

Bay 20:

Part one

Part two

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Boxing Clever

I just want to be a righteous man

bring love ‘n’ peace to where I can

cannot live by your twisted rules

made by those I see as fools

 

no matter your race, faith or creed,

accent, class, LGBT…

whatever you are is fine with me

Yer, we’re all being played

like a cheap violin

Same old tune – same old din!

 

Identity politics

fed by emotion

told what to think

deluded devotion

accusation – the new weapon of war

Thought Police now coming

to kick down your door

 

Utopia creators

mind mutilators

shifting sands of ideology

must control new technology

left-wing fascists? How sad

Political fashionistas chasing a fad

 

Into the sunset – slowly I ride

away from madness – brains that are fried!

This much I know – this much I’ve learned

lonely are the brave – respect is hard earned

 

I know my enemies – they come with a knife

know where I stand – they want my life!

You come as a friend – offer your hand

take away our freedom

give away our land

My faith in my God

will always be true

whatever my journey – it will carry me through

so all aboard this final last train

full of men and women

who’ve learned to live with their pain!

 

Like Lenny I see rabbits

running round inside my head

yesterday’s dreams, as George shoots him dead!

Like an Autumn leaf

crushed inside a small child’s hand

Nothing but dust – blown away like sand

My time is over – my time is done

this shy peaceful man – forever on the run…

 

 

©M.C. Bolton, November 2018