In recent blogs the Grenfell Action Group has been highly critical of the attempt by ‘West London Citizens’ to position themselves as spokespersons for the social housing communities of North Kensington:
‘The North Kensington Housing Inquiry Report’ was submitted by ‘West London Citizens’ to the Leader of the Council at a meeting on 7th July at the new Kensington Aldridge Academy. This appears to have been a shoddy attempt, which we greatly resent, to insinuate themselves into the RBKC regeneration discourse by posing as bona fide community leaders, experienced in such matters, competently advised by experts in the field, and with a history of representing North Kensington working class communities in their dealings with the Council and/or the TMO.
We would be strongly inclined to dismiss both ‘West London Citizens’ and their report as completely irrelevant were it not for the fact that their exclusive little meeting, hosted by their newest member (and newcomer to the Lancaster West community), the Kensington Aldridge Academy, was graced by the presence of the Leader of the Council, Nick Paget-Brown, his Deputy Leader and Director of Housing and Regeneration, Rock Feilding-Mellen, and the CEO of Kensington and Chelsea TMO, Robert Black. We find it more than a little sinister that ‘West London Citizens’ – absolute newcomers to the North Kensington housing debate were able to persuade, with apparent ease, the most powerful figures from the Council and the TMO to attend this event, while local residents groups have struggled for years to get the attention of the same figures, never mind their actual attendance at local meetings.
The fact that ‘West London Citizens’ parent organisation ‘Citizens UK’ is, or was, one of the Prime Minister’s favoured lapdogs in the early days of the ‘Big Society’ debacle might go some way toward explaining ‘West London Citizens’ cosy relationship with the top dogs in RBKC. ‘Citizens UK’ are also, coincidentally, well connected to a number of right-wing think tanks known to be influential in Downing Street and in Conservative and Labour ranks generally.
There were two distinct parts to the ‘The North Kensington Housing Inquiry Report’, the first part revealing a catalogue of complaints of disrepair and poor service by the TMO, and the second part supporting largescale ‘regeneration’ of the council housing estates of North Kensington as the ultimate solution to these and other problems afflicting local residents. The claim by ‘West London Citizens’ to be community leaders, representing these social housing communities, appears to be based largely on a so-called ‘listening exercise’ which revealed this catalogue of complaints and the widespread dissatisfaction resulting from them.
The most remarkable finding above, the accuracy of which we have no reason to doubt, is that more than 70% of social housing residents reported unresolved repairs or maintenance issues. The solution suggested by ‘West London Citizens’ took the form of a number of ‘key recommendations’ made to the TMO, chief among which was an offer to work with them to improve the repairs reporting and monitoring systems.
The trouble with this so-called ‘listening exercise’, and the naive attempt at mediation that followed, is that ‘West London Citizens’ appears to have been entirely ignorant of a major scandal which beset the TMO in 2009, and which the ‘West London Citizens’ Report’ revealed to be still unresolved years after this crisis shook the TMO to its’ very core and severely embarrassed the Council.
At that time the Council had been made aware that the TMO had unacceptable levels of unresolved complaints against it and the Council thus felt compelled to intervene directly. They did so by placing the TMO under a ‘Supervision Order’, which is the most serious action they could have taken, short of dissolving entirely the Management Agreement under which the TMO functioned. At this stage the TMO had also been ordered to submit to the Council an approved ‘Improvement Plan’ which they were required to implement satisfactorily within a strictly limited timeframe, also imposed by the Council. All of this was in line with the emergency procedures written into the Management Agreement under which the TMO functioned, and which were intended for use when all other attempts at remediation had failed, and the TMO was deemed by the Council to be grossly in breach of its’ management duties under the Agreement.
The Council simultaneously commisioned an independent investigation of the complaints which had sparked this whole crisis. An Investigation Report was duly prepared and submitted by solicitor Maria Memoli of Local Governance Ltd. on 10th April 2009. This was followed by an Adjudication Report prepared and submitted by Mr John Butler, on 22nd September which concluded that there had been underlying failures of governance, administration and service, which had caused longstanding dissatisfaction amongst residents.
Ultimately the TMO survived this crisis, but not before heads had rolled at the top, starting with that of the then CEO Gordon Perry, and others in the top tiers of management. The TMO also undertook a root and branch reform and reorganisation of its systems, notably its’ repairs reporting, response and monitoring systems. The problems that had bedevilled the organisation were supposedly resolved and the TMO was again given a clean bill of health by the Council.
So what is the point of this blog?
Well firstly, it would appear that ‘West London Citizens’ were unaware, during the preparation of their report, of the major scandal in 2009, after which a programme of radical reform of TMO governance and administrative systems had supposedly been successfully implemented to ensure that such failings could not, and would not, recur. This implies that the ‘West London Citizens’ investigation of service delivery by the TMO was shallow and ill informed, and that its’ recommendations on this issue were therefore fatally flawed.
Secondly, it raises the obvious question of why, a number of years after the TMO underwent a root and branch reform under the strict supervision of the Council, there appears to be no evidence of any improvement in their performance, specifically in their response to, and delivery of repairs, and no sign of adequate maintenance of the housing stock which it manages on behalf of the Council. This suggests that both the TMO and the Council are either grossly incompetent, or are secretly colluding in running these estates down in a programme of ‘managed decline’, such as we have previously claimed on many occasions.
Lastly, in common with RBKC planners ‘West London Citizens’ appear to accept the poor standard of maintenance and repair of the Council’s housing estates as valid justification for the mass regeneration programmes which the Council proposes, rather than as an indictment of the negligence and/or incompetence of the TMO, which is responsible for the maintenance of these estates, and the Council which is responsible for oversight and scrutiny of the TMO, and ultimately for the condition of all Council owned housing estates. At no point in the Report is the supposed need for ‘regeneration’ challenged or questioned.
From our perspective the solution to the failings and contradictions inherent in the conclusions reached, and the recommendations made, by ‘West London Citizens’ is for them to either get out of the way and let those who are less naive and compliant confront the Council and hold them accountable, or else master their brief so that they can more competently represent the interests of the social housing communities they claim to represent. Merely being the Council’s lapdogs, and supporting the pretence that the Council is not responsible for the failings of the TMO, will serve only vested interests in Council circles and the developers and property speculators with whom the Council and the TMO are colluding.
The question thus remains whether the disrepair of Council housing estates identified in the ‘West London Citizens’ report is evidence of gross negligence and incompetence by both the Council and the TMO, or of collusion between the Council and the TMO in a deliberate programme of ‘managed decline’ of these estates in order to justify the radical mass regeneration which the Council is so keen to implement. We suggest the evidence points strongly to the latter rather than the former, although we have no difficulty accepting that both Council and TMO are also utterly negligent and incompetent.