Cllr Elizabeth Campbell’s speech to Full Council on Wednesday 22 January 2020

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Mr Mayor, we are only a few days from the start of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

It will be a hugely difficult period for many: residents in communities across the borough; local councillors here on both sides of the chamber; staff here at the Council.

But it will be most difficult for the families who mourn their loved ones and for those that survived the tragedy or witnessed it, they will now have to relive the events that led up to the tragedy in often slow and painful detail.

In the coming weeks we will begin to find out what went wrong, who was responsible, and what opportunities were missed to prevent the tragedy from happening long before the fire brigade arrived.

Mr Mayor, I have apologised in this chamber for the Council’s role in the tragedy many times, tonight I can now be more specific.

In just a few days you, along with the rest of the country, will hear a legal representative for the Council outline our own failings in respect to building control.

This is about honesty. It is about being clear and about being truthful.

It is important to me, personally, it is important to the Council, it is important to the families most affected, many of whom I have met over the last two years.

I have always said that we will not shirk our responsibilities. If we have done something wrong, we will say so.

That is because no matter your point of view, your role, or which organisation you represent now or previously, Grenfell is a tragedy that should not have happened. It is a tragedy that can never happen again.

Mr Mayor, I would also like to emphasise that the timing of what I am saying tonight is not of our making.

The inquiry process – which has been thorough and complex – has only given us a narrow view of all the evidence collated and analysed, alongside our own, and the thousands of documents we have provided.

Only now is a whole picture developing, years later, with evidence submitted by other core participants and experts.

So, it is at this stage we step forward with confidence without potentially letting others off the hook and tell people where past actions fell short or failed residents.

The inquiry will of course hear these details in full next Wednesday, when our opening statement is given. That is right and proper. This will be our approach throughout the coming months and years.

We have spent the last two years going through each and every service area – from housing to building control and from community engagement to contingency planning.

To change. To improve. To fix things that were wrong. To put things right. To make them better.

We want residents in our borough to be as safe as they can possibly be in their own homes. It is our number one priority.

Just as we adopted the recommendations from phase one and started work on them the same day they were announced, we will move quickly and make sure this Council leads on issues as they emerge.

But there is a stark reality we face.

72 people died.

And this Council could have, and should have, done more to stop it happening.

Change at the Council has been focused on the areas I have mentioned. They are inarguably linked to the tragedy and the inquiry itself.

But Grenfell has had a profound reach into the organisation.

It has made us look at ourselves, our values, our behaviours, the way we work and the way we interact with the people we serve.

I fully understand that many changes we have made will be deemed too little and too late. But my view is that we all need to continue learning from the Grenfell tragedy and consider how it will shape what we do for years – decades – to come.

Mr Mayor,

I will take this moment to go through some of the major changes we have made already.

I can take you right back to July 2017.

We put in place a new leadership team.

We reviewed and updated our contingency and emergency planning, and we successfully tested this at Notting Hill Carnival months later.

We doubled down on our responsibilities and commitment to rehouse survivors and bereaved families, because we understood the complexity of the situation.

We deleted the artificial deadlines for families to move into new homes. Those deadlines were given to us, and they were not necessary.

We committed over 200 million to acquire properties for families in a matter of months. In total we acquired over 300 homes, one of the largest operations this country has ever seen.

I cannot thank the housing staff enough for the work they put in. Under heavy criticism, impossible deadlines, and with the added complexity of helping people who understandably blame the organisation that employs them.

They are still working to rehouse and settle some families, and that work will continue long after people walk through the front door of their new home.

In March 2018, we took back control of our own housing, creating a new department and recruiting officers to lead it.

We got some things right, and we got some things wrong – but we did this with the intention of improving homes and improving services to the people in those homes.

We work on this relentlessly, every single day.

I am proud of the fact this has been recognised. Residents of this borough have recently chosen to keep us in this role. I’d like to thank them for that, and we want to work with them to improve things further.

One year on from the tragedy, we committed £300 million to refurbish estates across the borough, on top of the £58 million to fund improvements on the Lancaster West estate, home to Grenfell Tower itself.

This is significant investment from us, but also takes emotional investment from our residents – they have welcomed us in, and we are now co-designing these projects with them.

Working together to shape the places in which we all live.

New fire doors followed, and were agreed by the leadership team in August 2018, and along with every other local authority in England we all began to tackle the issues raised by Grenfell in terms of wider fire safety.

Something we all continue to grapple with today.

Mr Mayor, we want people to feel supported for the future and for young people to have opportunities on their door step.

We reviewed previous plans and decisions on the North Kensington Library, thanks to the local residents, so that it could stay at its current location as a focal point for the community.

The same goes for Wornington College and putting in place the Grenfell Education fund.

All of these things are helping to level up for future generations.

We signed off £50 million for Grenfell Recovery, and that was matched by the NHS, giving a clear and joint commitment to health and care for people in our local communities.

And, in March 2019 we agreed our new Council Plan, launched after our biggest ever conversation with our residents, with over 2,000 people taking part.

By May last year, we had reduced the number of repairs outstanding on our estates from 5,000 to 500 – showing action and making good on the promises we made the year before.

Soon after, we finalised work with families from Grenfell to help set up a dedicated service.

We then introduced a new fire safety team and we have finalised a restructure and retraining of Building Control, which has just been audited by the national body to check our progress.

In recent weeks we have launched a new website, designed with residents and based on feedback from residents and held the first ever Grenfell Projects Fund decision day.

We put over half a million pounds into a pot and the community decides where it should be spent and on which projects.

A huge step forward in terms of working with residents and empowering them to decide what is most important to them.

And finally, we agreed a new housing strategy which charts out how we will tackle homelessness, build new homes, and make sure the voices of residents are not only heard but listened to.

Mr Mayor, we are doing a lot, and I believe it shows we are committed, and we are serious about making sure the legacy of Grenfell becomes a positive one over time.

But, as I conclude my remarks this evening, we also have to accept as an organisation that it will never be enough.

And nor should it be.

We cannot turn back the clock, we cannot change the events of 14 June 2017.

To the families from Grenfell, I say this.

I hope that phase two delivers the same clarity as phase one, and all organisations involved act upon the findings, resisting the temptation to point the finger at each other.

The Council will continue assisting the public inquiry, as demonstrated in phase one, no matter what the outcome means for us.

In the coming weeks and months, actions and decisions of those serving the Council prior to 14 June 2017 and in the days after the tragedy will be under intense scrutiny.

That is right, and we welcome it.

We hope all the organisations and companies giving evidence over the coming months accept it and help the inquiry get to the full unvarnished truth.

Our first thoughts and our last thoughts will always be with those who lost their lives, their families, their friends.

We will continue doing our very best to ensure lessons are learned, so they can be applied by every council, every authority, every building owner, every private landlord, and every single person that has responsibility for housing throughout this country.

Thank you.