Wednesday 21 March 2018

Council leader quits over the Grenfell Tower disaster – here’s what you need to know

Nicholas Paget-Brown said he had to accept responsibility for “perceived failings” by Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council.

(David Mirzoeff/PA)
(David Mirzoeff/PA)

By Georgia Humphreys

The leader of the council dealing with the Grenfell Tower fire has quit following criticism of his handling of the disaster.

Here’s what you need to know about Nicholas Paget-Brown’s resignation.

Why did he say he is quitting?

Paget-Brown said he had to accept responsibility for “perceived failings” by Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council after the tragedy which claimed at least 80 lives.

The resignation comes after the first cabinet gathering since the disaster was halted abruptly by Paget-Brown on Thursday evening when reporters gained entry.

He said: “As council leader I have to accept my share of responsibility for these perceived failings.

“In particular, my decision to accept legal advice that I should not compromise the public inquiry by having an open discussion in public yesterday, has itself become a political story.

“And it cannot be right that this should have become the focus of attention when so many are dead or still unaccounted for.

“I have therefore decided to step down as leader of the council as soon as a successor is in place,” he said.

Downing Street said the council should have “respected” a High Court ruling that the press and public should be allowed into the meeting, which was originally slated to be held behind closed doors.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: “Our view is that access to democracy should always be easy and we think that is vital if people want to retain confidence in our democratic system.”

What will happen next?

A general view of the Kensington and Chelsea council offices in Kensington (Alastair Grant/AP)

A new deputy leader and cabinet will be appointed.

Paget-Brown added: “As I said yesterday, this is a huge human tragedy for so many families.

“The task for my successor is to ensure that the strengths which also characterise this place, and north Kensington in particular, are seen to play their part in bringing the community together and ensuring that this borough, the most wonderful place, can start to move forward from this tragedy.”

Deputy leader councillor Rock Feilding-Mellen also stepped down, saying he would “of course co-operate in full with the public inquiry”.

What about some of the reaction to the resignation?

(Lauren Hurley/PA)

Labour councillor Robert Atkinson, whose ward includes Grenfell Tower, told of his relief at Paget-Brown’s resignation, saying he had “totally failed” in his role since the disaster.

Atkinson told Sky News: “My reaction is one of relief because, with the departure of the council leader, perhaps the council can now start to organise itself to provide the services that the residents so desperately need.”

Asked why it was necessary for Paget-Brown to step down, Atkinson said: “Because he has totally failed in the leadership role in the time since the disaster happened, which is now almost two weeks ago.”

He said his focus is on the immediate needs of his constituents, including providing them with homes and basics including hot water.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he welcomed the resignation, adding: “The council now needs to find a way to move forward and find a way to restore the confidence in that community.

“That can only be done with new leadership and a new approach that reaches out to residents who quite rightly feel desperately neglected.”

He said the Government should appoint “untainted” commissioners to take over the running of the council “to act in the best interests of residents” until the next local council elections.

He wrote a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May outlining his recommendations.

Any other developments we should know about?

People look at the burnt Grenfell Tower apartment building in London (Frank Augstein/AP)

The organisation which manages Grenfell Tower in west London also announced it had agreed its chief executive would “step aside” so he can “concentrate on assisting with the investigation and inquiry”.

A statement from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) confirmed Robert Black’s position, two days after retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick was appointed to lead the public inquiry into the deaths.

It said: “The board wishes to ensure that KCTMO remains best positioned to fully co-operate and assist with the inquiry and so it has agreed with its chief executive, Robert Black, that Mr Black should step aside from his role as chief executive of KCTMO in order that he can concentrate on assisting with the investigation and inquiry.”

An interim chief executive will be appointed, it added.

Press Association

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