Grenfell Tower fire response: Kensington & Chelsea Liberal Democrats ask Sajid Javid to call in Commissioners
The parliamentary spokesperson and two local councillors for Kensington and Chelsea Liberal Democrats have today written to Sajid Javid MP, the Secretary of State (SoS) for Communities and Local Government, asking that he consider calling in Commissioners to take over key roles and decision-making at Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council.
RBKC’s failure to provide ‘best value’, as it is legally mandated to do under Part I of the Local Government Act 1999, is the key reason for this request.
Under section 15 of the 1999 Act, the SoS is empowered to intervene in the event of a council failing to do its duty. In this case, Commissioners can be appointed to support and oversee RBKC to take steps to ensure that it provides best value.
“This should not be interpreted as a criticism of RBKC staff or their work, which has been carried out during a time of extreme stress, under intense media scrutiny, and often in the absence of clear planning or leadership,” said Andrew Lomas, Liberal Democrat Councillor for RBKC.
“Nevertheless, we remain concerned that the response to the tragedy that unfolded at Grenfell Tower has revealed that RBKC has been and is failing to meet its duty of providing ‘best value’,” he added.
For some time, there has been a financial culture at RBKC involving:
(1) persistent departmental underspends (designed to pursue a policy of converting revenue receipts into capital receipts);
(2) the fetishisation of large cash reserves (c. £280m) during a period of budgetary constraint and exceptionally poor cash yields (leading to a negative real return on those cash reserves); and
(3) RBKC has chosen a funding model that favours service delivery via voluntary and third sector organisations to such an extent that there was no appropriate RBKC infrastructure in place to coordinate the response in the immediate aftermath of the fire.
Annabel Mullin, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Kensington, said:
“It is regrettable that we have had to call for such an intervention, and do not do so lightly. However, there has been a fundamental breakdown in trust between RBKC and those it has a duty of care to provide for.
“Renewing and replacing those perceived as responsible for that trust erosion would enable the rebuilding of the governance and financial management capacity of RBKC, and secure its future compliance with the best value duty.”
RBKC Liberal Democrat Councillor Linda Wade added:
“There has been a conspicuous void in leadership nationally and locally, amounting to frustration with the council’s lack of visibility and failure to communicate with survivors as well as those who would like to help.”