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Grenfell Tower fire: Government taskforce to take over parts of Kensington council after fatal blaze

The Government will send in a task force to take over parts of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Communities Secretary (DCLG) Sajid Javid will announce that outside experts will be brought in to manage the council’s housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance services in the wake of heavy criticism over the council’s handling of the tragedy.

It comes just days after leading MPs and campaigners warned The Independent that the Government had to strip RBKC of its powers or face possible civil unrest.

They said the Government should impose new commissioners to run the local authority, which was plunged into further turmoil last week after its leader, Nick Paget-Brown and deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen were forced to stand down over their handling of the disaster, which claimed at least 80 lives.

Robert Black, the head of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), also stood down to “assist with the investigation and inquiry”.

Mr Javid said: “The scale of the recovery effort needed on the Lancaster West estate in the months to come cannot be underestimated.  Support to survivors, the families and friends of those who lost their lives and residents in the wider community must and will be ongoing. The challenge of providing that support is and will continue to be significant. I want to help the council meet that challenge.

“The immediate response to the disaster is being coordinated by the Grenfell Response Team, headed up by John Barradell.  He is ably supported by a number of colleagues drawn from London Councils, the wider local government sector including the RBKC, the voluntary sector, Police, Health and Fire services as well as central government. Their expertise and hard work is making a huge difference.  

“As well as providing that immediate support, we must have an eye to the future. This intervention is putting in place the foundations that will support the longer term recovery.”

Elizabeth Campbell, a former member of the council’s cabinet, was nominated to replace Mr Paget-Brown, saying in her first public statement she was “truly sorry” for RBKC’s handling of the tragedy.

She said the “unprecedented scale” of the incident meant RBKC were forced to ask for help. 

“I look forward to working with their staff as we all concentrate our efforts on healing the wounds in the north of our borough and to regain the trust of a community traumatised by disaster,” she said. 

The move stops short of demands from DCLG shadow secretary Andrew Gwynne and London mayor Sadiq Khan for ministers to appoint external commissioners to take over the running of the whole council.

The new team is expected to be phased in as the current Grenfell Tower response team is gradually wound down following the immediate aftermath of the fire.

Yvette Williams, coordinator of the Justice4Grenfell campaign group, said last week survivors were becoming increasingly angry over the council response to the tragedy. 

“We are definitely calling for the council to be brought under executive control. We’re calling for them to just go, the arrogance alone is just astounding,” she said.

“There has to be action, not just a statement anymore. Something needs to be seen to be done for the community. We are not just traumatised, we are angry. There will be civil unrest if this continues, there needs to be some kind of action that shows something is being done.”

In his resignation statement, Mr Paget-Brown described the Grenfell fire as “possibly the worst tragedy London has seen since the end of the Second World War”.

He conceded that the council had faced criticism for not answering the public’s questions and said he had to “accept my share of responsibility for these perceived failings”.

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