Inspection of Grenfell Recovery Spending PledgedBut Local Concerns Remain
The council has committed to producing a dedicated financial report for the first time since the disaster, as many survivors and the bereaved say that funds have been squandered
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) Council has pledged to produce a dedicated report into its Grenfell-related recovery spending for the first time since the disaster.
On 1 March, Byline Times documented the anguish felt by many of the bereaved and survivors of the 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower, who believe that disaster recovery funds – distributed by the council – may have been misspent.
Alongside the council’s financial commitment to rehouse the survivors, the RBKC has committed a £50 million, five-year Grenfell Recovery Fund to assist the bereaved, survivors and the wider community.
However, summary budgets released by the council show that a large amount of money has been invested in council buildings and staff – while some of the services provided to victims have been criticised as wasteful and not adapted to the needs of particular groups or individuals.
Leadership figures within the council have previously admitted that they “haven’t got everything right”, although it has broadly defended its use of funds.
Following pressure from both councillors and local groups, the council has now committed to producing a more comprehensive report on Grenfell recovery spending – including the Grenfell Recovery Fund – featuring a comparison between where the money has been spent and how the council said it was going to spent, which is roughly outlined in a report in February 2019.
The report is due to be presented to the council’s Audit and Transparency Committee on 11 May.
“I asked for this report some months ago and it is hugely frustrating that it has taken so long to get to this stage,” Emma Dent Coad, former Labour MP for Kensington, a current RBKC councillor and a member of the Audit and Transparency Committee said.
In a committee meeting about the subject earlier this week, Dent Coad said that many people involved in the disaster regularly stop her in the street to express their frustration with the distribution of recovery money and the council’s lack of transparency.
“I get asked about it all the time,” she added. “It’s not just that people are angry about it – people are hurt by it.”
Yet, despite the seemingly imminent publication of the council’s report, there are lingering concerns.
Firstly, the report will simply provide an overview of Grenfell recovery spending – it will not make a judgement about the efficacy of its outlay. It will also be produced by the council about council activities and spending, leading to concerns that politically-damaging details might remain hidden.
Commissioning an audit by an external company was rejected at the Audit and Transparency meeting, although the committee said that it may recommend the production of a third-party report when it responds to the council’s findings.
Dent Coad has said she will go one step further. If the report is insufficient or if its publication is delayed, she said she will take matters into her own hands: “If there are further delays – or if the report is lacking – I will take on this work myself. And it won’t be the whitewash that so many expect.”
In 2019-20, £2.56 million of the £4.5 million budget dedicated to Grenfell survivors and the bereaved was spent on council staff salaries and council property costs. A council spokesperson told the Evening Standard last year that just two managers were employed with a budget of £601,000 – although the council now denies this is the case.
This expenditure has caused frustration within some sections of the community, who say that they have seen little personal benefit from the council’s multi-million-pound schemes.
The Recovery Fund is set to end in 2024, though the council has held a proportion of the money in reserve so that some services can be extended. People are concerned that the £50 million will have been spent before the expenditure can be scrutinised and diverted into more beneficial schemes.
The council’s audit of Grenfell expenditure to date, to be presented in May, is a first step – though more evidently needs to be done.
“The report to be presented to the Audit and Transparency Committee will be based on externally-audited figures and to a scope agreed by the Committee,” an RBKC spokesperson said. “Grenfell recovery is the top priority for the council and is a key item on select committee work programmes.”