Damning report condemns Grenfell council for ‘failing its community’

Initial findings from the Independent Grenfell Task Force confirm Kensington and Chelsea Council had neither the breadth of skills or the competence to cope.

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Kensington & Chelsea Borough Council “failed its community” over the Grenfell disaster and must meet a series of recommendations to raise the ongoing recovery programme a new report reveals.

The Independent Grenfell Recovery Task Force found that prior to the fire the council was distant from its residents; highly traditional in its operational behaviours; limited in its understanding of collaborative working and insular, despite cross borough agreements; and with a deficit in its understanding of modern public service delivery.

As a result, the report says the task force had the impression of council having neither the breadth of skills or the competence to organise, manage and drive through an immediate and significant change in operational delivery in the days and weeks immediately following the disaster.

The council’s immediate response alone is slammed as “at best disjointed and seemingly rudderless.”

Re-housing is recognised as a “substantial and immediate” challenge with 320 households still in in hotel accommodation and attempts to temporarily and permanently rehouse them proving complex exercise.

Where permanent rehousing numbers are increasing at a painfully slow rate, the core is seen as striking the balance between the need for a fair, equitable and transparent lettings system whilst at the same time meeting the personal needs, aspirations of each of the households.

The circumstances for rehousing are said to be “unprecedented” at this scale and the rehousing response must be equally unprecedented in its attention to the personal needs and aspirations of each family.

With the decision made to end the contract with Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the task force is “unconvinced” that the council offers any better option as landlord – particularly in the medium to long term.

The three phase plan faltered at the KCTMO AGM, which effectively postponed a decision, with the emergent default position seeing management services are undertaken by the council in future.

Here, the report recommends a full options appraisal for the future ownership and management of housing stock – either as a whole or in smaller parcels/packages.

Though the decision to end the contract with KCTMO is recognised as “the right one” the task force warns of a need to take the deep suspicion of residents towards the council into account – to the extent that survivor groups refuse to recognise the council’s authority.

The council now has three months to demonstrate the instigation of initial action on the report’s recommendations.

Amongst these is the covering of the tower as soon as possible, with it being “reprehensible” to have remained uncovered for so long.

Following a significant change of senior leadership, the report recognises the council as “working hard” to develop and deliver effective support and services to survivors and the wider community – and is doing so while undergoing a fundamental change in the way it delivers its functions and its organisational culture and allocating considerable resources.

The report identifies four themes to drive the ongoing recovery effort:

  • More Pace: the pace of delivery needs to be increased
  • Greater empathy and emotional intelligence: these attributes need to be put at the heart of the council’s recovery plans
  • Skills: all officers and councillors need training in how to work with a community that has been traumatised
  • Greater Innovation: the council has to be bolder than it has been in its response.

Outlining a number of detailed recommendations – most of which fall to the council, but some to Government and the community – the report indicates timescales by which each should be met.

Included are:

  • Governance and delivery: The brief for the review of governance commissioned from the Centre for Public Scrutiny should be extended beyond a review of structures and processes to include what ‘good’ looks like in relation to the behaviours and performance in role of Members.

This should be done with a view to incorporating this into the induction for new Members, post local election in May 2018.

  • With the scale of the challenge significant and to date the pace of delivery of many services has been poor – pace needs to be added as a matter of urgency.

The chief executive must further bolsters the capacity and capability at the most senior level to add pace to operational delivery.

If this requires additional resource, then that should be allocated.

  • Oversight and accountability: Central government oversight was and remains necessary. However, the frequency and intensity is having an impact on the ability of the council to deliver on the ground.

The report suggests the weekly Ministerial Recovery Groups (MRG), chaired by the Communities Secretary, should be reduced in frequency.

  • Rehousing: The pace of permanent rehousing must be accelerated with clear realistic targets for delivery to be agreed immediately.
  • Future management and ownership of RBKC’s housing stock should not be pre-determined.

The report refers to many ways that management of the housing stock can be delivered and all of them should be considered in “detailed consultation” with residents.

  • Sufficient staff to focus on improving the support to survivors and the wider community must be addressed immediately.

The report wants innovative ways to  increase capacity quickly, suggesting the re-prioritisation of work across the council to free up resources.

Though the report recognises many actions have been suggested and agreed that could make an immediate difference on the ground, in too many cases these have not been delivered.

Ensuring these are delivered will begin to engender trust in RBKC’s ability to deliver, the report says.

While actions for immediate focus that have been promised must be logged and delivery ensured.

On community engagement, the council needs to undertake a detailed mapping of its community so that it can “better understand it” and work holistically to bring together all information on victims and survivor needs into a central knowledge and data management system – with rapid service delivery share and real-time management of accuracy.

Designated key workers are needed as the ‘single point of contact’ for victims and survivors and empowered to follow up action from across the council and support agencies.

The task force will continue to monitor how the council and anticipates an update in the next three months to “delve deeper” and look more closely at how effectively these plans are being delivered on the ground.

Though the report finds the council failed its community on the night of the disaster and over the weeks immediately following, many staff are saluted as doing their best to help despite a “leadership vacuum” aligned with silo service delivery – leaving little effective and structured support.

Prior to the fire, the report cites evidence of  suggesting the council that was too distant from the community it served; old-fashioned in its operational behaviours; limited in its understanding and commitment to collaborative inter-agency work; insular, despite cross–borough arrangements; and with a significant deficit in understanding of modern public service delivery.

As a result, the council is recognised as starting from a particularly low base both in terms of trust from the people it serves, and its historic structures and approach to community leadership.

The report acknowledges the council as “working hard” to develop effective support and services to victims and survivors from the fire while at the same time undergoing a fundamental change in what it does and how it does it.

Since the fire, the council has undergone significant changes in senior leadership, established a Grenfell department and designed a significant housing programme for implementation – allocating significant additional funds to support the recovery efforts.

The report accepts no local authority could develop a response to a disaster of Grenfell’s magnitude without help from other councils, public services and government.

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