Grenfell Tower fire: Sadiq Khan calls on PM to appoint commissioners

Sadiq Khan Image copyright Getty Images

London's mayor has urged Theresa May to appoint commissioners to run Kensington and Chelsea council after its leader resigned over the Grenfell Tower fire.

Sadiq Khan welcomed Nicholas Paget-Brown's decision to stand down, but said public trust could not be restored by other members of the council.

He said residents "quite rightly feel desperately neglected".

Mr Paget-Brown resigned on Friday, saying he had to accept his "share of responsibility for perceived failings".

At least 80 people are believed to have died as fire engulfed the Grenfell Tower block, in west London, on 14 June.

Mr Paget-Brown resigned following sustained criticism of the council and an aborted meeting of its cabinet on Thursday, from which leaders had tried to ban members of the public and press.

The decision led to a rebuke from Downing Street, which said it would have expected the council to respect a High Court ruling that the meeting be open to the public.

Reacting to Mr Paget-Brown's resignation, Mr Khan said it had been "clear that the local community in and around North Kensington has lost trust in the council and that the administration is not fit for purpose".

He called on the prime minister to appoint "untainted" commissioners with "a genuine empathy for local people and the situation they face" to take over the running of the council until the next local council elections.

Yvette Williams, co-ordinator of the Justice4Grenfell campaign, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the community was "very, very angry" and would not accept commissioners without consultation.

"I do support the mayor in terms of a commissioner-led borough, but how are those people going to be selected?" she said.

She added that one former Grenfell Tower resident had had rent deducted from their bank account since the tragedy.

The survivor, who is housed in a hotel, got her bank card back and only realised that the rent had been taken when she went to withdraw funds from a cash point, Ms Williams said.

"It's just disgusting," she added.

Kensington and Chelsea council said to the best of its knowledge rent charges for Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk had been stopped.

"We are very sorry if this has happened and we are working to find out who has been affected so we can offer reassurance and an immediate refund," a council statement said.

"But if anyone has had money inadvertently taken as part of a direct debit or standing order we will make arrangements to have it immediately refunded."

Key criticisms of the council

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
  • Residents condemned the response to the tragedy, calling it "absolute chaos" as relief efforts on the ground were limited.
  • They said there was little or no co-ordination in the immediate days after the disaster, with claims council officials were nowhere to be seen.
  • The council was accused of failing to provide enough support or information to those who had been made homeless.
  • It tried to hold the first cabinet meeting since the disaster behind closed doors.
  • After a High Court order ruled it should be open to the public, the council adjourned the meeting after 20 minutes, claiming an open meeting would "prejudice" the inquiry.

Catherine Faulks, Conservative councillor for Kensington and Chelsea council, said: "Of course we weren't immediately quick off the ground, it was an enormous tragedy... I challenge any borough in the whole country to immediately have had an action plan that they could put into place."

When asked whether commissioners should take over the council, she said: "It's a decision for government."

The council will elect a leader next week, she said.

But shadow housing secretary John Healey told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he backed Mr Khan's call because the council had "demonstrated they are not up to the job".

"The public and residents' trust can't be restored by simply replacing the leader and deputy leader by other politicians from the same political group and this is where ministers need to step in," he said.

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Media captionNick Paget-Brown: "I have to accept my share of responsibility"

The former head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake, a cross-bench peer, told Today commissioners were "not brought in lightly" and it had "only happened on very few occasions".

"The test for me about whether commissioners come in - I wouldn't like to make that judgement not being close to the detail - is really, essentially, can the council do the job that is necessary to make the building safe and in particular to support those who have been affected?" he said.

"The pace of response has been the issue and also I have to say the communication. The public have a right to know what's going on."

Council leaders claimed on Thursday that an open meeting would "prejudice" the forthcoming public inquiry into the disaster.

But angry protests followed and Labour councillor Robert Atkinson, whose ward includes Grenfell Tower, branded the abandoned meeting a "fiasco".

In his resignation statement, Mr Paget-Brown said he had received legal advice not to "compromise" the public inquiry into the fire by having the meeting open to the public and press.

But he added this decision "has itself become a political story".

"It cannot be right that this should have become the focus of attention when so many are dead or still unaccounted for," he said.

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Media caption Council tries to ban press and public from meeting

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said the resignation was a "personal matter" for Mr Paget-Brown, but added that it was "right that he has stepped aside".

Deputy council leader and cabinet member for housing, property and regeneration, Rock Feilding-Mellen, also stood down.

The fire at the 24-storey block in North Kensington destroyed 151 homes, both in the tower and surrounding areas.

Documents obtained by the BBC suggest cladding fitted to Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment was changed to a cheaper version, which was less fire resistant.

The tower's cladding has been the focus of attention, amid suggestions it was why the flames spread so quickly.

Meanwhile, the head of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation has stepped aside so he can focus on "assisting with the investigation and inquiry".

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