Kensington and Chelsea council is to have key services taken over by a specialist “taskforce” following its heavily criticised response to the Grenfell Tower disaster, HuffPost UK has learned.
The west London council will hand over its housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance to outside experts, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid will confirm to Parliament on Wednesday.
The move, which has been agreed in conjunction with the borough’s leaders, will be phased in once the current emergency team gradually steps aside from the immediate aftermath of the blaze that killed at least 80 people last month.
Javid decided not to order in “commissioners”, statutory outsiders who can run an entire council, despite calls from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and others for him to bring in “untainted” new leadership.
Khan told HuffPost UK the move was “the absolute minimum” needed but warned that without a wholesale takeover local residents would still feel shut out and the Government could make the situation “worse rather than better”.
The decision to hand over the running of social housing, regeneration and ‘community engagement’ is the clearest admission yet that the Royal borough - often associated with some of the wealthiest residents in London - has let down its poorest tenants for years.
Government sources said that the rest of the council’s services were rated of high quality and did not need to be handed wholesale to an outside body.
A written ministerial statement will be laid before the Commons to set out the move, and Javid could make an oral statement too.
The decision could spark a political backlash, as commissioners were sent in to Rotherham and Tower Hamlets when they were deemed to be failing residents.
However, Javid is using as a precedent Birmingham City Council, where an ‘independent improvement panel’ was sent in with the council’s agreement to turn round its finances and governance.
All those who survived the horrific fire were promised new homes by Wednesday, within the three week deadline set by the Government, but many were still in hotels or temporary accommodation as of this week.
The Tory council has been heavily criticised not just for ignoring repeated warnings from residents groups about fire safety, but also for its slow response to the disaster.
The British Red Cross and local groups had to step in to coordinate essential activities, and a Government-run Grenfell Recovery Taskforce was sent in to help.
The ‘Gold command’ run by Met Police, outside council chiefs and others continues to carry out key functions, but will be gradually replaced in housing and other duties by the new external taskforce.
London Mayor said: “The appointment of independent and external experts to take over the management of key council functions in Kensington and Chelsea is the absolute minimum, given the failure of the council to respond to the Grenfell tragedy.
“However, the way the Government is going about this risks making the situation worse rather than better.
“The fundamental problem in Kensington and Chelsea now is the total lack of trust from the local community in the council and elected councillors . As a result of this breakdown of authority, the council will find it almost impossible to begin giving the community the support and services it desperately needs.
“Appointing external commissioners, after consultation with local residents, to take on the full running of the council until next year’s elections would be a far more effective approach, as it would recognise the legitimacy of residents’ concerns, and would be a crucial first step towards rebuilding trust.
“If the Government is determined to carry on with this approach, then it is absolutely critical that local residents are consulted and given a say over who the independent experts are. They must have legitimacy in the local community and the power to direct local services.”
The London Mayor and Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne called at the weekend for statutory commissioners to be sent in as a hit-squad to take over the whole of “shambolic” Kensington and Chelsea until fresh elections in May 2018.
Gwynne told HuffPost UK: “Despite being clear admission of failure, this is a half measure that does not go far enough to address the woefully inadequate performance of Kensington and Chelsea council throughout this crisis.
“It is clear that that the community has lost trust in their council, and Sajid Javid needs to finally show some leadership by bringing in external commissioners – in consultation with residents themselves – to make sure all everyone in the borough is getting the support they need.”
Javid had insisted that all options were open in the running of the town hall, but has now decided that the commissioner idea was unnecessary.
The Cabinet minister risked a fresh row by accusing Jeremy Corbyn of turning Grenfell into “a political football”. He was earlier accused by Labour of “blame shifting” after making a speech to the Local Government Association in which he said lots of councils face a “looming crisis of trust”.
Kensington and Chelsea’s leader Nick Paget-Brown finally quit last week, a day after sparking a fresh controversy by trying to stop the media from reporting on the first council meeting on the disaster.
A new Tory leader, Elizabeth Campbell, was chosen by the Conservative group this week and is expected to be confirmed by the whole council on July 19.
Chief Executive Nicholas Holgate had already resigned within days of the disaster, saying he didn’t want to be a ‘distraction’ from the rescue effort.
Theresa May has apologised to Parliament for the “failure of the state, local and national” in the aftermath of the blaze.
Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday night added his voice to concerns about the public inquiry into Grenfell Tower, calling for its remit to be published “swiftly” and for its team to be “broadened widely” to be more in tune with local residents.
Kensington’s Labour MP Emma Dent Coad urged inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick to quit over his failure to engage more effectively with survivor groups.