“This week, the Grenfell Recovery Taskforce issued its first report into the response of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea after nine weeks of research. The findings are damning, as anyone following the story would expect, and focus on particular cultural failings in the council that worsened the response.
The report speaks of “a leadership vacuum”, with a “distant council” and a lack of emotional intelligence in dealing with survivors and the community. It says empathy and emotional intelligence need to be put at the heart of its recovery plans. “We have seen many good intentions, which have gone unrecognised by residents,” says the report.
“Often what has been lacking is the appropriate ‘style’ of delivery, where an approach that had empathy at its core would have had greater positive impact. Systems, policies and practice need to be designed with people’s current needs at the heart as opposed to what is good or convenient administrative practice.”
This comment speaks to one of the main failings of the council: to understand what the community needed, not just in terms of temporary accommodation, rehousing and the release of funds, but with regards to people centred response services. Many complained that the council seemed robotic in its responses, focusing on defending its approach rather than accepting and understanding that people viewed its actions as inadequate and working out precisely why.
It was a council that had become insular, disconnected and in particular distant from communities similar to those on the Lancaster West estate. Despite the tragedy being unprecedented, the council appears to have become fixated on behaving as though the recovery could be dealt with within traditional local government frameworks, notes the report, which says the council needs to be bolder.
The taskforce urges the government to encourage a “highly innovative” response responding to residents’ needs, rather than being “bound by tried and tested bureaucratic response systems that are not appropriate in these circumstances”. …
Kensington and Chelsea is an extreme example of the stripped-back local government we now see across Britain. This is due not just to austerity hollowing out council accounts and making it impossible to deliver services, but also to a philosophical shift in the way councils operate. Too many have shifted from providing hands-on, local services with a high level of resident involvement, to an aloof, threadbare service that consists of both councillors and staff who eschew frontline work and meetings for a rigid managerialism and dismissal of residents as obstacles and annoyances. …
Local politics is far closer to everyday lives than national politics; by its very nature, empathy and emotional intelligence are absolutely imperative to a functioning council. It’s tragic that the Grenfell tower fire and external criticisms were necessary for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to understand that.”