At times of national disaster, poets laureate are often called on to commemorate and reflect on events. In north Kensington, we have our own Ben Jonsons and Alfred, Lord Tennysons. Our poets laureate are Akala, AJ Tracey, Lowkey and Peaky. We have Stormzy, and Potent Whisper calling out what he calls “Grenfell Britain” in gut-wrenching prose. We have poets and artists aplenty, but the Philistine council does not recognise their talent and would rather spend £30 million over 20 years on opera for a minority in Holland Park.
Why is all that relevant to this debate? Because for many years Kensington and Chelsea Council has misspent Government and council tax payers’ funds on countless vanity projects and handouts, as we have heard, while underfunding essential services such as nurseries, play centres, lunch clubs, homework clubs, youth centres, advice centres, skills training and of course, as so tragically demonstrated, council housing. That is not to mention the recent controversial projects to hand our beautiful North Kensington library and neighbouring youth centre over to two private schools, at a cost to the council of £11 million, without even consulting the public, whose money is being used to fund private education. This is an £11 million gift to the private sector, while the council cannot find the money for sprinklers, decent cladding or fire alarms. Where is the accountability? To whom does Britain’s favourite council report? Clearly, it is not to the taskforce.
As we have seen, and as has now been acknowledged, the council’s response in the early hours and days after the fire was shockingly inadequate, and possibly even criminally neglectful; we shall see. So in the past four weeks, has it improved? Has the council learned from its mistakes? It has not. It has removed a chief executive and senior councillors have resigned, but who are replacing them? Where fundamental change is so desperately and clearly needed, we have had no change at all and a consolidation of the leadership that failed.
Survivors and volunteers are asking: where is the money so generously donated by the public? Where are the millions? Who is deciding where this money should go? Why is the council not using some of its reserves—near a third of a billion pounds—to purchase properties and support those whom it has so disgracefully failed? Has no one demanded that, after years of underspending revenue, money that has been shuffled into capital reserves for vanity projects be returned, quite properly, to those who need it? No one has. What is needed in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council is fundamental change, and I can see that we are not going to get it without further outside intervention and the support of people who can be trusted. The longer the situation prevails, the worse it will get. I am asking for intervention.
I get daily updates from people on the ground. Where is the wrap-around support for bereaved and desperate people who are still staying in hotels, as the much trumpeted “high-quality” temporary accommodation has been unsuitable or has not materialised at all? Why offer a survivor a high-rise flat? That happened this week. Why offer a disabled woman a home reachable only by stairs, where there is no lift? That happened this week. Why offer a flat in Pimlico, which is too far away for people to reach survivors’ networks? Where is the offer of temporary accommodation—