Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry

Part of Humanitarian Situation in Mosul – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 12th July 2017.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Co-National Campaign Coordinator 6:24 pm, 12th July 2017

Absolutely, and I am afraid it speaks volumes. Unless the Minister, in summing up, can explain how local authorities are going to get that resource, the fact is that councils in my hon. Friend’s constituency and many others across this country will not have the financial means to address the issue. They need certainty that they will receive some recompense from central Government.

I want to turn quickly to governance. We heard today that the taskforce sent in to advise Kensington and Chelsea Council lacked the powers necessary to co-ordinate what needed to be done following this disaster, and about the deficit in local leadership. As the First Secretary of State has said, the taskforce can advise, but it cannot act. Surely that is an issue of real concern, because Kensington and Chelsea Council just was not up to the job of dealing with a disaster of this magnitude. The way in which it responded was, quite frankly, not acceptable in any sense of the term. There is very real concern about not only how the local authority handled the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, but its shortcomings over the following days and weeks.

Having spoken to those offering support to survivors, I understand that there are very real concerns that the uptake of financial support is still not what it should be. I appreciate that Ministers have given assurances that benefits will not be affected, but the lack of trust that some continue to have in their elected representatives locally has led to some refusing support. That needs to be addressed at a local level.

On the council’s ability to deal with this type of emergency, it has emerged that there are serious shortcomings in its contingency planning and management, yet the Government have not been good enough at the job of intervening. People are still in need of support services and rehousing. It appears that the Government have acknowledged the council’s serious failings, because they sent in a taskforce, but at this crucial time, they have left in charge those who failed the residents in the first place. Today, we heard the new leader of the council state that she has never before been inside a high-rise council block. What a farce!

On 1 July, Labour called for commissioners to be sent in to take control of the situation, warning that trust among the local community will not be rebuilt by a leader, deputy leader or other politicians unless there is a major shake-up in governance. I repeat the call that we made on 1 July: local people want to know that the Government are taking control; that there will be a shake-up in the management and governance of Kensington and Chelsea Council; and that the situation will be closely monitored and managed directly by commissioners who are answerable to the Secretary of State and to Parliament, until the local authority has the necessary capacity, is fit for purpose, and is fit to govern in the interests of all the residents of Kensington and Chelsea.

Until we can guarantee that all those who lost their homes are in secure accommodation, until support is available for all who need it, and until the public are again able to trust the elected representatives in Kensington and Chelsea Council, we will repeat our call for commissioners to take over the running of the council. Changes need to be made to laws, to regulations and in the governance of the council, and they must be made based on the evidence we have now, as well as on the additional evidence from the inquiry. We urge the Government to make this happen swiftly; if they do, they will have our support.