Grenfell Action Group

Wornington College – The Smoking Gun??

The pieces of the jigsaw are slowly falling into place and our knowledge of how the Wornington College building passed from the ownership of the KCC Corporation into the hands of the Royal Borough is now becoming much clearer. It was always our understanding that it was the arrival of RBKC’s Director of Strategy, Tony Redpath, onto the KCC Board of Governors that was key to the sale of the freehold but a recent discovery of confidential KCC minutes has revealed that the plan was actually hatched sometime before.

Reg Kerr-Bell has had a high profile in the North of the Borough for a number of years and once stood unsuccessfully in local elections as a Conservative candidate in the Golborne Ward. He was a member of the Golborne United SRB board, and was a founder member and chair of the West Row Tenants Association (Hortensia West Residents Association). Golborne United was created in September 1999 and was dissolved in 2006, when the SRB programme ended, at which point it was succeeded by the Golborne Forum.

Between 1999 and 2006 Golborne United received grants totalling £2.7 million under the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) programme, which it distributed as small grants to 80 local projects – including, rather strangely, the TMO and the Westway Amenity Trust (Westway Trust) both of which were awarded generous grants, despite the obvious fact that they were both revenue and asset rich satellites of the Council. The SRB programme had been set up by the former Labour Government, and a crucial part of its function was to channel small grants to local voluntary groups, which it did via the local authority to which Golborne United applied for funds that were entrusted to it for wider distribution.

When Golborne United was dissolved Kerr-Bell stayed on as a member of the Golborne Forum. He was subsequently elected to the Board of the KCTMO in 2009 and became Chair of that despised organisation between 2010 and 2012, at which point he was superceded as chair by the present incumbent Faye Edwards. Kerr-Bell maintained his presence in this ‘mini-mafia’ by chairing the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee. In his apparent lust for power and influence he also joined the KCC Board of Governors in 2006.

Over the years his involvement with these various bodies has afforded him ample opportunity to rub shoulders and curry influence with Councillors and Officers of the RBKC, and readers of this blog need not be reminded of the unholy and incestuously close relationship that exists between the Council and their stooges at the supposedly separate TMO, to the great detriment of TMO tenants and leaseholders.

It is, however, his actions as a Governor at KCC that are of special interest and concern to us in the context of this current blog. We recently discovered confidential minutes from a Board of Governors meeting held at KCC in December 2012 revealing that the seeds of the plan to dispose of the Wornington College building and grounds into the hands of RBKC were first sown at this juncture. It is our considered opinion that this is the moment, in December 2012, that triggered the start of the process that has seen our much loved Wornington College fall into the hands of the Neo-Cons at Hornton Street:

www.kcc.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/KCC-BOC-minutes-111212.pdf

The ‘Audit Committee for Council Housing’ referred to by Mr Kerr-Bell was, of course, the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee of the TMO. His proposal regarding ‘the potential to develop the Wornington Road Centre’ was met with token opposition from some KCC Board members, who favoured a merger with City Lit, as recommended by the Skills Funding agency (SFA), in order to secure the college’s financial future. However, as a result of the Kerr-Bell proposal it was resolved by the KCC Board that:

(The Grenfell Action Group are currently in the process of trying to obtain the minutes of these follow up meetings by use of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.)

We now know that following Mark Brickley’s recruitment as the new College Principal in October 2013, the KCC Search and Development Committee requested that RBKC be contacted and ‘an officer with experience of education’ be invited to join the Board of Governors. It is a matter of record that Brickley subsequently wrote to Nicholas Holgate, the Town Clerk at RBKC, seeking his recommendation for this role, and that Tony Redpath, Director of Strategy and Local Services at RBKC, was subsequently nominated and joined the KCC Governing Board in March 2014. Kerr-Bell and Redpath then sat concurrently on the KCC Board before Kerr-Bell resigned his position at the College in March 2015. The role of Tony Redpath was apparently to represent RBKC interests more directly and authoritatively on the KCC Board, to relay insider information back to RBKC, and possibly to approve evolving proposals, whenever necessary, on behalf of RBKC. The sale of Wornington College to RBKC was negotiated and announced to the public, without any public consultation, or even the knowledge of the RBKC Labour Group, in May 2016.

The Grenfell Action Group can only guess at the motivation behind the suggestion by Kerr-Bell that the financial problems bedevilling KCC could be remedied by a fire sale of the Wornington Road complex to the Royal Borough. We are horrified that a single individual, a senior TMO Board member, who bragged openly about his influence with RBKC Councillors from the Planning and Housing Development Committees, could so directly and decisively influence the sale by KCC of this vital local asset to RBKC.

At this point we would call into question whether the actions of Kerr-Bell were in keeping with (i) the code of conduct for individual KCC governors and (ii) the Corporations guidelines concerning the requirement for Board Members to remain free of external influences as laid out in KCC’s Statement of Corporate Governance and Internal Control:

(i) “members of the Board of Governors agree always to act in the best interests of the College and not to speak or vote as if mandated by other persons or bodies”.

(ii) “The Coroporation considers that each of it’s non-executive members is independent of management and free from any buisness or other relationship that could materially interfere with exercise of their independent judgement”.

The recent history of the TMO reveals them as willing and enthusiastic partners in the Council’s ideology of remorseless demolition of social housing, and destruction of local communities, in the name of ‘regeneration’ and the pursuit of profit. We have little doubt that Kerr-Bell shared this ideology and used his influence at RBKC, and his position on the boards of both TMO and KCC, to facilitate the aquisition of the Wornington Road College by RBKC in the full knowledge that it would be demolished and redeveloped for profit.

We have no doubt that, as a senior member and former Chair of the KCTMO Board, Kerr-Bell was too close to RBKC councillors and officers not to have had a glaring conflict of interest in advising KCC regarding the sale of the Wornington complex to the Council. We believe Redpath too had a similar conflict of interest. It seems equally clear to us that the actions of both parties significantly breached the Code of Conduct for KCC Governors, and yet not a single member of the KCC Board appears to have even considered this to be an issue. We have to question what this says about the quality of management and governance at Kensington and Chelsea College during this time of crisis!