Leader's speech by Elizabeth Campbell, 27 September 2017

When we last met as a Full Council in July, we heard the harrowing accounts from people who had been caught up and lost relatives in the fire. 

We heard their anger, we heard their sorrow, we heard their pain and we heard their frustration. Their participation was very welcome; and I found it very moving.

Now I know that some survivors cannot be here tonight and that some may come along later. Madam Mayor, I hope that everyone in the chamber will agree with me that we allow them time and space to speak to us.

We have all been changed by the events of that night; but none of us has been as deeply and directly impacted as those who are victims and survivors of the fire. 

We are in a different world now. The events of that horrific night have altered everything. 

It is going to be a long hard road for survivors as they take their first steps to rebuild their shattered lives.

I promised that this Council would do whatever it takes to help them - and we are determined to get it right. We want to support the survivors with help tailored to the individual.

Now I understand how miserable it is living in a hotel and we want to get people rehoused as quickly as we can. As we do so, we have to remember two things:

  • First, to be patient and understanding. Deciding where you live for the rest of your life is a huge decision
  • And secondly, to listen to our critics – whether it’s from the community, the opposition party or from the media...

Nobody has a monopoly of expertise in how to respond to a humanitarian crisis on this scale. We are taking the advice being offered to us and we are doing the best we can.

Now I recognise that there are people who do not trust us to do the right thing either for the survivors of Grenfell or for the wider community of North Kensington. In times like these, I know that feelings run strong. But one of the ways we can try to provide reassurance is by making ourselves more accountable to local people.

At the last meeting of Full Council, a motion was passed relating to the Council’s future governance arrangements. The Centre for Public Scrutiny is going to conduct an independent study into how the council does its business; and it will report next spring.

While I am not going to second guess the outcome of that review, we are going to make some immediate changes:

  • From next year, we intend to hold eight Full Council meetings per year. 
  • They will go on for three hours rather than two. 
  • And Council and Leadership Team meetings are now being filmed and can be seen on the council’s website.

Most importantly, we are introducing a new Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee comprising all the other Committee Chairs plus the local ward members. So it contains the most experienced and knowledgeable councillors. And it will be chaired by a Labour member, Robert Thompson.

Its role will be to review, to question and to scrutinise the Council, and the way we are trying to help survivors and the local community.

We are being given additional advice and support by the Independent Taskforce.  I personally have found the advice of the Chair of the Taskforce, Jane Scott, to be invaluable.

The contribution of the NHS to the recovery effort has been formidable. The mental health workers of the NHS, along with HESTIA, have been providing around-the-clock care. They have hundreds of patients in treatment and have rolled out the most extensive support for people suffering from trauma.

Many other voluntary and community organisations continue to do an amazing job. I cannot mention them all here tonight but it is a testament to the communities of the Borough that they are there at people’s time of need. 

I would also like to thank all our friends and neighbours from across London. We are being supported by officers from Lewisham, Southwark, Ealing, Barnet, Wandsworth, Westminster and many, many more. This has been genuinely a cross-London effort.

A good council not only hears what the community says, it listens and takes action.

Finding new homes for people is an important first step, but so too is helping people discover their own ways to deal with the deep emotional aftermath of the tragedy itself.

Grenfell survivors have told us that the key worker system we put in place for them is not working. It may have been right as an emergency response, but it isn’t right now.

What people need now is a model which gives survivors more choice over the support they actually get – whether it be a mental health professional, a financial adviser, an advocate or support worker.

It has been necessary to take some urgent key decisions - to take care of people’s needs as quickly as possible. And you will see from the attached report that we have committed more than £75 million from our emergency funds on buying homes, leasing the Curve community centre and providing wraparound care.

Other key decisions include:

  • suspending service charges 
  • waiving council tax
  • and giving businesses rates relief.

We are also providing:

  • a small business support package,
  • more money for voluntary and community organisations
  • and money for people who are moving in to buy furniture.

We will continue to use our emergency funds until we have provided all the homes and support that people need. So far, 52 families have accepted permanent housing offers and 20 families are now in their new permanent homes.

Everybody is frustrated with the pace at which permanent new homes are being provided for Grenfell survivors. We want to move as quickly as possible but our allocation process must be scrupulous. 

We took time to consult the community before implementing the process and - while we are all frustrated at the speed of allocating housing – everyone accepts that there has to be a process which prioritises the most vulnerable people.

The situation is complicated so let me try to explain the order in which we allocate housing:

  • First we have made offers to the bereaved;
  • Only when they have accepted or refused an offer can we release the homes (that they expressed a preference on) to the next family;
  • After the bereaved, the next priority group are households who have sustained injuries or who have disabled relatives who need looking after;
  • The next order of priority is families with children;
  • And then other survivor households.

So far 67 households have been matched against a property for which they have expressed a preference on the website.

64 households have been to look at their preferred properties; and of those, 52 households have accepted an offer in principle.

12 have been through the legal process of formally taking on a tenancy and are about to move in; but many others are still taking advice before they commit.

Six households have already moved in to their new permanent accommodation and a further 14 households have decided to stay permanently in the housing that the Council initially provided.

As anyone moving home knows, it is never as simple or easy as you might hope. It is even more true here.

But this is not a time for haste; it is a time for getting it right. And I am confident that the number of people moving into their new homes will increase dramatically in the coming months.

We have around 200 households from the Tower and Walk that need to be resettled. We have bought about 120 homes so far. And we are resolute that we will get hold of more properties. 

  • 20 individual properties that we intend to buy are already with solicitors
  • a further 20 are in negotiation
  • and we are looking to acquire another hundred by Christmas

Some survivors are understandably keen to stay close to the community of North Kensington to retain their ties and attachments but others want to start afresh, away from the site of the tragedy.

The same goes for the leaseholders.

We have made some initial proposals to leaseholders and we have listened to their feedback. 

Resident leaseholders have made it very clear to us how important it is that they receive a settlement that allows them to stay in the local area. So we have amended our proposals and we will be sending them an updated offer very soon.

For all leaseholders, we have set up a dedicated Navigator Team that can provide support and advice, or point them in the direction of other services.

There are a further one hundred and fifty families who lived in the walkways who will be given the choice of going back to their refurbished homes or moving into a new home elsewhere in the Borough.

We have established an office on site, we done 60 wash and brush-ups, we have carried out repairs, and we have addressed the immediate concern of fire safety. 

We have started a consultation with residents on what we can do to make the walkways a better place to live.

We want the walkways to be a model of what social housing should be in the 21st century. Meanwhile, we are also working on the options for those who want to move away from the area. 

On Monday I spoke to the owners of 159 empty homes in Chelsea as to whether we can get them back into use.

Madam Mayor, I am acutely aware that families are still living in the shadow of the Tower. 

Residents want it to be covered, so that they don’t have to be reminded on a daily basis of the horror they experienced and witnessed.

The police have now authorised scaffolding to be put up, so that the building can be wrapped. We have been told it should be wrapped by the end of January.

The police investigation is still going on; and the building itself can’t come down until the investigation is finished. We do not know when that will be.

There are many more milestones we aim to reach by the end of the year.

  • We need to acquire nearly 100 new properties this Autumn 
  • We want everyone made homeless from the Tower and the Walk to have had the chance to choose a new home by Christmas
  • And we can reaffirm our commitment to have rehoused every single displaced family within twelve months, by the Summer.

We are working around the clock, with expert advice, to do whatever it takes to get people into homes.

This Council was shown up by the rapid and generous response of its own residents to the Grenfell tragedy. And while we have to recognise the reality that the communities most affected by the Grenfell fire no longer trust us, we are going to work to earn their trust through the actions we are taking and the progress we are making.

We were too slow to respond. But let no-one doubt how determined we are to put things right.