UK

Grenfell Tower Fire: Kensington And Chelsea Council Sidelined After Relief Effort 'Not Good Enough'

Red Cross drafted in to newly-formed response team.

18/06/2017 20:20 BST | Updated 19/06/2017 12:04 BST
AFP

Kensington and Chelsea council has been sidelined in leading the response to the Grenfell Tower fire amid criticism it was failing the survivors of the disaster.

Just hours after the leader of the Conservative-controlled authority toured TV and radio studios to defend the “effective” response, it was announced the new Grenfell Fire Response Team had been set up.

The team now leading efforts to re-house and provide support to victims is a coalition of central government, the British Red Cross, the Metropolitan police, London-wide local and regional government and the London Fire Brigade.

The new relief effort came as the Metropolitan Police said investigations at Grenfell Tower have led police to believe the number of people missing - but as yet unaccounted for - has risen from yesterday’s figure of 58.

Following Kensington and Chelsea council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown insisting there had been an “an effective coordinated relief effort”, London mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC this was a “million miles away” from what local residents felt.

Underlining the frustration, residents who met the Prime Minister in Downing Street following the fire have criticised estate managers of the building as having been “invisible in the aftermath of the tragedy”.

Being relieved of responsibility is hugely embarrassing for a council that is the wealthiest in the country and sits on a £270 million reserve.

In a statement, Eleanor Kelly, chief executive of Southwark Council, praised the emergency services and the reaction from the community, but made plain the initial response “was simply not good enough on the ground”. It read:

“We want to make clear that whilst the emergency and local community response was nothing short of heroic, we know the initial response was simply not good enough on the ground. 

“People are angry and rightfully so. Our focus is now ensuring those affected are being cared and looked after.” 

Toby Melville / Reuters
Protesters march towards The Grenfell Tower block that was destroyed by fire

The team is to provide 24-hour access to services and support at the Westway Sport and Fitness Centre. Help is to be provided for housing, funds, health, social care, food and advice.

Kelly said housing is the “main priority” and that it will organise and speed up the rehousing process.

She said 201 families have received emergency accommodation to date and that by the end of Monday the teams aim to have contacted all known families affected by the fire and completed an assessment of what they need.

It follows residents whose homes were destroyed in the fire being told they will receive a Government down-payment of at least £5,500 from Monday.

The money comes from the £5 million government emergency fund previously announced, and support workers will help those who need it access it.

No 10 said the £500 cash payment is already being handed out and further payments will be available tomorrow from the Westway Centre and the nearby post office in Portobello Road.

The payment will be available be available to people who do not have bank accounts and for those needing to pay for funerals.

Kelly added:

There is nothing we can say that will blunt the feeling of loss and anger. But what I hope the new team and this package of support will start to get those affected by this tragedy the urgent assistance from the authorities they need.

The group of residents who met Theresa May, made up of victims, residents, community leaders and volunteers, said they were grateful to the Prime Minister for listening to their concerns but demanded “real action and immediate results” moving forward.

In a statement to the Press Association they criticised Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation for its reaction to the disaster.

The group said:

“In our meeting at Downing Street, we explained to the Prime Minister the anger of all residents towards the management of the estate over a long period of time, paving the way to this tragedy.

“With the exception of very few junior officers, the estate managers have been invisible in the aftermath of the tragedy.”

The group, which spent two-and-a-half hours with May on Friday and Saturday, hit out at the “longstanding neglect” of council buildings in the area. It said:

“We are devastated by this tragedy. We are angry about the inadequacy of the response and the longstanding neglect of our buildings by the council and building management.

“We are grateful to the Prime Minister for listening to us and for the assurances she has given us but now we need to see real action and immediate results with centralised coordination of the relief effort with residents closely involved.

“The Government must also take a serious look at the neglect and chronic underfunding of social housing over decades.”

They added that local residents should be “consulted at all stages and that we should be listened to” in dealing with the fallout from the tragedy.