Grenfell Council ‘Humiliated’ At Public Meetings, Councillor Says
Kensington council is being “humiliated” at public meetings by “deliberately targeted” resident anger in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, the chair of a committee scrutinising the recovery process has said.
Labour councillor Robert Thompson said it was “natural” that community members were trying to hold the council to account with “expressions of anger” pending the findings of a criminal investigation and public enquiry into the disaster, which claimed 71 lives.
Speaking to The Independent after a “tense” meeting of the Grenfell recovery process scrutiny committee on Thursday night, the committee chair and reverend warned that disorganised outbursts risked alienating officials in a position to improve the lives of survivors.
“The reality is what happens in those meetings is there are expressions of anger that are deliberately targeted to humiliate the council,” he said. “No one has been brought to account yet, so in these meetings, people humiliate the council by saying, ‘You did this to our community’, and that’s natural in these circumstances but there are real tensions there as well.”
Mr Thompson was criticised in the wake of the meeting for not allowing a vote of no confidence to be tabled on the borough’s management of its housing stock.
Campaign group Justice4Grenfell said it was “disappointing” the North Kensington community had not been able to express their dissatisfaction with the housing “crisis” facing survivors.
“It was right to call for the vote because we are now going into the eighth month after the tragedy and people are still in hotels – at least 100 or so. So certainly, Justice4Grenfell will continue to support the call,” said campaign coordinator Moyra Samuels.
Of the 208 households made homeless in June’s tragedy, 53 are now housed in permanent accommodation and 55 households are living in temporary accommodation.
Labour MP Emma Dent Coad had supported the proposal, brought forward by committee co-member and local resident Joe Delaney who said allowing the vote would have “spoken volumes” in “symbolic value”.
But Mr Thompson said the housing scrutiny committee did not fit within his terms of reference.
“You cannot bring a vote of no confidence to one scrutiny committee about another. The terms of reference for the housing and property scrutiny committee just do not fall in my remit,” he said. “People come to the recovery committee and express that anger but of course if I want to make the committee effective in bringing change then I need to orient the meeting to address these issues on a policy level.”
Strained exchanges between survivors and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) officials have become commonplace at public meetings in the wake of the fire.
In July, one gathering descended into chaos as community members accused the Government of “mass murder” amid cries of “arrest someone”. In August, council leader Elizabeth Campbell was repeatedly branded a “disgrace”, as attendees chanted “shame on you”.
“A lot of people come and what they really want is for the dead to be brought back to life. It’s just impossible but we can make the lives of those who are alive better and we can do that as a committee,” said Mr Thompson.
“This is not the same council as before 14 June. These people were not responsible for how the council related to the [Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation], they were not responsible for the refurbishment of the tower, or the deaths of people at Grenfell,” he said, adding there had been a real “cultural change” at RBKC.
It comes just a month after the Tenant Management Organisation, which was in charge of Grenfell Tower, announced it would hand control of around 9,000 homes back to the council after admitting it could “no longer guarantee that it can fulfil its obligations”.
The organisation was stripped of its contract to maintain social housing following a vote of no confidence from 25 residents’ associations last year.