This is our truth, tell us yours
It seems a no-brainer doesn’t it? The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has lost its Chief Executive, Leader and Deputy Leader. Rather more significantly, it lost them in the aftermath of losing approximately one hundred of its citizens in a devastating fire for which the authority may well be held to blame. The Grenfell Tower fire exposed RBK&C as badly led, inept, and utterly lacking in priorities and direction that addressed the needs of all its residents.
Like I say, it’s a no-brainer isn’t it? So why hasn’t Theresa Maybe ordered the commissioners in? Why, instead, is RBK&C being run by a scratch team of chief execs borrowed from other London authorities? The answer, dear reader, lies in the same thing that has paralyzed the government since it first became apparent that Grenfell Tower was a truly awful disaster; political calculation.
The use of commissioners is an extreme exercise of government power in an undemocratic way; it usually attracts scrutiny from a parliamentary select committee, which is only right and proper. You can read a typical such report here. Given that the government has a wafer thin majority, dependent on a confidence and supply agreement that does not extend to select committees, would you want to take actions that might invite a select committee, at soem stage in the foreseeable future, to conclude that RBK&C was rotten from the core? Worse,would you want to allow the chance that a select committee might conclude that the austerity project has led to local authority cuts so deep and significant that local authorities lack the capacity to carry out their duties?
In RBK&C the problem is exacerbated by the ideological commitment of the council to keeping its council tax rates amongst the lowest in London. Austerity was not just driven from the centre, but implemented with wilfull glee by small state enthusiasts in the leadership of RBK&C conservatives. Those political choices weremade by a council which, before Grenfell Tower, Theresa May would have held up as an example of political purity, the ideal comparator to use to hurl accusations of profligacy and waste at Labour councils elsewhere.
The residents of Kensington and Chelsea may need commissioners to run their council, but Theresa May doesn’t need the risk that the reality of what drove RBK&C to the brink of a corporate manslaughter charge might be exposed. As in everything she has done since becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May is being driven by what is expedient, not what is necessary.