Theresa May’s government yesterday rejected demands that she appoint commissioners to run Kensington and Chelsea Council amid accusations that the authority mishandled the response to the Grenfell Tower fire.
The government’s response came as the crisis deepened over who should be held accountable for the 80 deaths in the blaze.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, pictured, had asked May to take the unusual step because he said the elected council for the borough of Kensington and Chelsea had “lost the trust of local residents”. But installing commissioners would place the fire tower crisis even closer to May and her Conservative party.
The council owns Grenfell Tower, a 120-flat public housing complex that was destroyed in the 14 June fire. It is made up of 37 members of the Conservative Party, 12 from the Labour Party and one Liberal Democrat.
Council leader Nick Paget-Brown resigned on Friday, saying he accepted responsibility for the “perceived failings” of the council and said its members would elect a new leader at its next meeting.
But Khan argued that all members of the council were tainted by its response to the disaster. Fire survivors and neighbourhood residents have protested, accusing local officials of ineptitude and a lack of concern for their plight.
“It is crucial that the commissioners are people of high standing and probity, have a genuine empathy for local people and the situation they face and be untainted so that all residents of Kensington and Chelsea can have confidence in them,” said Khan, a senior figure in the Labour Party.
But communities secretary Sajid Javid, a Conservative minister whose department supervises the borough, said now was not the time for the central government to get directly involved.
“We will be keeping a close eye on the situation,” Javid said. “If we need to take further action, we won’t hesitate to do so.”
The frustration underscores the political and economic divisions in Kensington and Chelsea. Grenfell Tower is in one of England’s most deprived neighbourhoods. Yet it sits alongside the affluent enclaves of Notting Hill and Holland Park, home to investment bankers and corporate managers.