I would normally address my speech to you and members of this Chamber.
However, tonight, I would like to ask if I could speak directly to the victims, survivors, and the community groups of Grenfell and North Kensington. I would also like to invite any survivors, who would like to do so, to speak tonight.
We meet at a time of unimaginable grief and sorrow.
The Grenfell fire is the biggest civilian disaster in this country for a generation.
In recent weeks, I have been meeting survivors, speaking to those dealing with the aftermath of the fire and staying in touch with those still living in the shadow of the tower.
The stories I’ve heard are heart-breaking, humbling, and life-changing in every sense.
Families have been torn apart, their loved ones lost forever, their communities broken up.
And the victims of this tragedy have been let down by this Council.
We did not cope well enough in our initial response to the tragedy.
I know that you will have heard me apologise for our inadequate response.
Tonight I reiterate that apology to you directly, no ifs, no buts, no excuses.
I am deeply sorry for the grief and trauma you are suffering. I am deeply sorry that we did not do more to help you when you needed it the most.
I want to thank community groups and volunteers for your extraordinary work. You went above and beyond and continue to do so.
I understand why you are so angry.
I am determined to do everything in my power to help you.
And now as the new Leader of your borough, the place that is your home, I want to commit to real action. We need to do so much more and work even harder to support and care for you.
The cross London, cross public and voluntary sector Grenfell Response team has made an exemplary start.
I want to thank John Barradell and Eleanor Kelly for their leadership of the Grenfell Response team. I want to thank them for ensuring that the help that was so urgently needed was given as quickly as possible. More than 600 staff from local authorities across London and beyond have been working around the clock, all with one objective: to help the survivors and victims of this tragedy.
My priority as new Leader is to continue to provide this vital practical and personal support to the victims of Grenfell. Right now and in the many months and years to come.
The next practical step is to find you, the survivors a permanent new home.
We are talking to each and every one of you who has lost your home.
We are working with you to fully understand your needs. We will keep an open mind and show flexibility and sensitivity to your preferences.
I am sorry that this is taking so long and that many of you are still in hotels and that is not where you want to be.
I understand that many of you wish to remain in the borough, and many want to return to live in the North Kensington area. I also understand that you do not want to lose contact with your community. A community that has displayed such strength and dignity in the face of this disaster.
I fully understand why you would want to remain close to those you know and care for, where your children are at school and where you have put down roots.
We have already got 68 units in Kensington Row ready to move into.
We are now working with the Government to agree the terms of an offer to tenants and we expect that this will be ready within a fortnight.
Today we have bought a further 31 homes in Hortensia Road.
We have been scouring the borough for appropriate homes to buy.
I can tell you that we have identified about 20 units on the market in North Kensington, and we will buy them if we can.
I am not going to hold back from spending this borough’s reserves.
Reserves are built up to be spent in a crisis.
And this is a housing crisis which we are going to overcome.
On top of the 99 new units we have secured, we aim to build or purchase a further 300 social housing units.
And we are going to deliver them quickly.
That will be a total of 400 new units in the next five years.
Now, we cannot fund all these new homes just out of reserves.
So, I am going to be knocking on the doors of the Government and of the Mayor of London and anyone else I need to, to ask them to help me to deliver these homes.
The Government has offered local authorities the prospect of bespoke housing deals.
So we are going to look at how we can secure a deal for North Kensington.
A deal which allows us to break the chains on borrowing against the Housing Revenue Account, to have more flexibility in how we spend right-to-buy receipts and to work more closely across boundaries with other local authorities. I am prepared to think out of the box to finance our ambitious plans.
But let me make the following assurance.
Nothing is going to be built on the site of the Grenfell Tower without the full participation of the survivors and their families, and those living in surrounding homes. I can guarantee that the future of the Tower site will be led by the community.
I have been speaking to residents of the Grenfell Walkways who for weeks had no hot water and huge disruption. I know that you all witnessed the horrific fire. I understand that you find it difficult to return to homes where your children can’t sleep. I understand why you are still in hotel accommodation. Thank you Councillor Beinazir Lasharie, for welcoming me into your home and for introducing me to your neighbours so I could understand at first-hand your real concerns.
I now know that many residents of the estate have long running complaints. And many feel they have not been listened to either by us or the TMO.
So tonight I pledge to work collaboratively and sensitively with residents to make the Walkways a better place to live.
We will work with you and your excellent residents’ association on upgrading the homes that you live in and to improve the Walkways. And I can state for the record that I have no intention of asking people to move out while we do this.
Much of what I have said tonight I cannot do alone. At the town hall I need a committed team of councillors and officers to help me. Beyond the town hall, I am very grateful for the ongoing support of my neighbouring boroughs, voluntary groups and our Government.
I have said this Council needs to change and tonight I am appointing a new leadership team to help me make that happen.
I am appointing Kim Taylor-Smith as my Deputy. Together we will work on our response to the Grenfell tragedy.
Kim is going to make sure we find homes for all those who lost theirs in the fire. He is going to listen to what people want and he is going to take a long, hard look at the TMO. Unfortunately due to legislation and other restrictions, we simply cannot make changes to the TMO overnight. So in the meantime this Council will supplement TMO’s services on the Lancaster West Estate by directly providing those services that residents need today, tomorrow and next week.
I have asked Mary Weale to be Lead Member for Communities. Mary lives in Kensington and I am delighted that Eve Allison has agreed to work with Mary as her Deputy on this vital community portfolio as she brings with her a wealth of knowledge of North Kensington.
We also have a borough to run. And so I am making a few other appointments to my leadership team.
Will Pascal will be my other Deputy, responsible for Borough Services. Will is K&C through and through; he was elected in Chelsea and born in, and lives in, Kensington.
I have asked Kensington Councillor David Lindsay to take responsibility for Corporate Services and Emma Will is going to continue to lead Family Services including Education, while Charles Williams will take responsibility for Adult Social Care and Public Health. Gerard Hargreaves will be Chief Whip.
This is a new leadership team, which has been appointed to CHANGE the way we do things.
We need to change and to change fundamentally if we are ever to regain the trust of you, our community.
As a Council we have long been proud of our connections with local community groups. Compared to many other authorities in London we have continued to give direct grants or to commission services from many, many voluntary groups.
But the tragedy of Grenfell has demonstrated to me that this is false pride. We have been found wanting. The people of North Kensington have inspired me with their spontaneous energy; with their compassion and their kindness. They have shown us how hollow our previous efforts of community engagement now look.
Our focus on achieving service excellence may have paid dividends in the past. The world in which we now operate is extraordinarily different from our world of just two months ago. We now need to put the resources and capabilities of the Council at the disposal of our community.
Our residents have witnessed a sort of "retreat from the street" - where politicians and managers alike appear to have studiously avoided the public for the comfort of meetings and political or professional discussions. This must stop. We need to rebuild credibility with our community. We need to do that brick by brick, decision by decision.
And we need to engage all community groups; those with whom we have long standing relationships as well as those who have emerged spontaneously in the last month. And we will help meet the needs of the victims and survivors of the Grenfell tragedy.
Recovery starts with your leadership not ours. That's why I want us to follow your lead. This recovery will be community-led as well as community inspired. The spirit of civic action which we have witnessed in North Kensington will nurture a renewed sense of purpose and action in this Council.
So finally I want to make three further commitments:
Firstly the culture of this Council will change. In practical terms that means we will create a future for this borough together with you our residents. Our councillors and senior executives will not decide this for residents but with residents. We will rethink all our plans for regeneration in the borough. We will work with residents to create new plans and you will vote on any results – if people vote against then we’ll go back to the drawing board together and start again.
Secondly how we work for and with our community will change. We need to understand and appreciate the strength that is within our neighbourhoods. The very strength that stepped into the void after the fire. And we will listen to and support that network of support rather than preach to it. We should be at one with our community groups, listening to their experience and expertise and helping you to work with us to bring on young people, support older people and nurture the community links that keeps places strong.
Finally how we deliver and manage social housing will change. Mixed communities are what make this great city tick. What binds people from different backgrounds, different cultures and religions isn’t about a postcode – it’s about being human. What happened after the fire when the community came together in such an incredible show of human strength and compassion will humble me for the rest of my life. It has changed me and it will now change this Council.
Change starts here.