All public servants must keep Grenfell in their minds

By Cllr Elizabeth Campbell | 01 February 2024

It's been six-and-a-half years since a fire at Grenfell Tower ripped families and lives apart. In total, 72 people lost their lives, among them 18 children including one yet-to-be-born baby boy.

Last week, alongside senior colleagues from departments across the council I lead, I attended every day of Grenfell Testimony Week. The week gave a platform for some of the bereaved, survivors and residents to speak directly to representatives from the defendant organisations that many hold responsible for the fire.

It is impossible to truly relay the truths so eloquently spoken, and I want to pay tribute to those families who shared their experiences. Of course, it is uncomfortable when the finger is pointed in your direction with such raw emotion. But every single person delivered their message with dignity. It demands respect and it demands to be heard nationwide.

I sat and I listened, and I felt ashamed. This organisation shares the blame for what happened, and we should continue to shoulder it every single day.

A refrain that came through loud and clear throughout Testimony Week was that residents did not feel respected. They were not listened to, the valid complaints they made about their homes not acted on quickly enough or with enough attention.

Fundamentally, our residents felt that they were not treated with the dignity they deserved and had every right to expect. We failed them, and that failure played a part in a tragedy that should never have happened and can never happen again.

It should not have taken what happened at Grenfell, but we have spent almost seven years listening and learning. We are building new social homes, bringing existing properties up to standard and providing unique, direct care to bereaved and survivors through our Dedicated Service. We are undergoing a compete cultural change across the entire organisation.

But this issue expands beyond the borders of Kensington and Chelsea. Grenfell has provided lessons that need to be learned across local government, central government and the construction industry.

For all of us, from social landlords to construction firms, our priority has to be people. Treating them with respect, listening to and acting on their complaints and keeping them safe in their homes. Protecting lives has to come above the pursuit of profits.

Public service comes with a responsibility to do the right thing. As public authorities, we should have a higher bar set for us and we should all be clearing that bar already.

I do not need to remind anyone in local government about the pressures we are facing, not least around housing and the numbers in temporary accommodation. Resources are being stretched ever thinner as the demands on our services grow and grow.

But now more than ever I urge all public servants to keep Grenfell in their minds. We cannot lose sight of who we are doing this for. At the heart of our services are residents and it is their needs, their lives and their safety that should inform every decision we make.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry report will arrive this year and it will set out numerous failings. It will indicate improvements to social housing, the way people are treated, and the safety of the housing we provide.

As they made so crystal-clear during Testimony Week, Grenfell’s bereaved and survivors have no use for words. They want action. They need to see real change, not just in Kensington and Chelsea but across the country.

It is incumbent on the entire sector to deliver that change. We must be prepared to act on what the Inquiry recommends and to implement whatever comes forward.

If you work anywhere in local government, I urge you to take in some of the accounts from Testimony Week. As public servants, it is important that we all try to understand the depth of grief, the fury, frustration and anger.

Please act and make things better on behalf of the 72 that lost their lives. If nothing ever changes, then justice is denied.

Cllr Elizabeth Campbell is leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

comments powered by Disqus
Housing Grenfell Tower