Sajid Javid – 2018 Update on the Grenfell Tragedy

Below is the text of the statement made by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the House of Commons on 22 March 2018.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to update the House on support for those affected by the Grenfell tragedy and on the second report from the independent recovery taskforce. This report will be published in full on gov.uk and placed in the Library of the House.

Nine months on, the shocking and terrible events of 14 June continue to cast a long shadow. I know that it cannot have been easy for the survivors and the bereaved to hear last week about the failure of a fire door from the tower, which was tested as part of the Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation. I am confident that the police and the public inquiry will, in time, provide answers. But, having met survivors and heard their stories, I know that that does not take away from the pain and loss being suffered now by those left behind. Their welfare remains our highest priority, and we see that through our continued work supporting the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and through the valuable work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), the Minister responsible for the Grenfell victims. We are ensuring that the voices and concerns are heard right across Government. That work is supported by my Department and, more widely, by the NHS, by local government and by the voluntary sector.

I give my thanks to everyone who has gone that extra mile to be there for a community that has gone through so much. I also thank the taskforce for its work in helping us to ensure that, after the slow and confused initial response to the disaster, the people of North Kensington are receiving better support from RBKC to help them to recover and to rebuild their lives.

I was clear when I reflected on the taskforce’s first report in November that, while progress was being made, I expected to see swift, effective action to address all the issues that were highlighted, particularly the slow pace of delivery and the need for greater empathy and emotional intelligence—two things that are vital if RBKC is to regain the trust of the people that it serves.

My Department has been working closely with RBKC throughout to provide the support and challenge necessary to drive this work. I am pleased to see, from the taskforce’s second report, that some important progress has been made. RBKC, alongside the Government, has put in significant resources and increased its efforts to provide those affected with greater clarity about the support that is available to them. We have also seen a stronger focus on implementing new ways of working to drive much needed cultural change across the council in collaboration with external stakeholders, and a greater candour about the improvements that still need to be made. But there is much more to do to ensure that residents can see and feel that things are getting better on the ground. Nowhere is this more important than the vital task of rehousing those who lost their homes—a task that I have always been clear must be sensitive to individual needs, but not use these needs as an excuse to justify any type of delay.

Five months on from the fire, at the time of the taskforce’s first report, 122 households out of a total of 204 had accepted an offer of temporary or permanent ​accommodation. Only 73 households had moved in, and only 26 of those had moved into permanent homes. Today I can report that 188 households have accepted an offer of accommodation. Just over two thirds of these—128 households—have already moved into new accommodation, including 62 into permanent homes. This is welcome news but, as the taskforce’s second report highlights, progress has been far too slow.

It was always going to be a challenge to respond to an unprecedented tragedy on this scale and to secure new accommodation in one of the country’s most expensive locations, but progress has not been made as quickly as it should have been. There are still 82 households in emergency accommodation, including 15 in serviced apartments, with 25 families and 39 children among them. This is totally unacceptable. The suffering that these families have already endured is unimaginable. Living for this long in hotels can only make the process of grieving and recovery even harder. As the taskforce has said, it is unlikely that all households will be permanently rehoused by the one-year anniversary of the fire. This is clearly not good enough. I hoped to have seen much more progress. It is very understandable that the people of North Kensington will feel disappointed and let down, even if there are encouraging signs that the pace of rehousing is speeding up.

The council now has over 300 properties that are available to those who lost their homes, so each household can now choose a good quality property that meets their needs, with the option of staying in the area if that is what they wish. To ensure that these homes are taken up, I expect all households, regardless of their level of engagement, to be given whatever support they require to be rehoused as quickly as possible. The Government will continue to play their part, providing help with rehousing and other support for survivors, including financial support currently worth more than £72 million. The weeks ahead will be critical for ensuring that efforts to rehouse survivors go up a gear. I will be closely monitoring progress and will of course keep the House updated.

As I said earlier, if the council is to regain trust it is paramount that the Grenfell community is not just being told that things are changing, but can see that its views and concerns are being heard and acted on. A good example of this, as highlighted by the report, is the transfer of responsibilities from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation to RBKC on an interim basis. This happened after residents made it clear that the tenant management organisation could no longer have a role, not only on the Lancaster West estate but more widely in housing management throughout the borough.

Residents have been engaged in the process of refurbishing the Lancaster West estate, with the Government matching the £15 million that the council is investing in this programme. Alongside this, the council will shortly be consulting residents on the long-term delivery of housing management needs across the borough. The voices and needs of the residents will also be at the heart of the process to determine the future of the Grenfell site and the public inquiry, which has just begun its second procedural hearing.

There must be an even stronger focus on needs as we step up efforts not just to rehouse survivors, but to help them to rebuild their lives and, vitally, to rebuild trust. ​It is a process that will clearly take time and unstinting commitment on all sides. As the taskforce has noted, some progress has been made, but there is no room for complacency. I expect the council to take on board the taskforce’s recommendations and do more to listen to the community, improve links with the voluntary sector and act on feedback that it gets from those on the frontline.

I thank the members of the taskforce once again for their valuable contribution, which will continue for as long as it is needed. As they have noted, despite the many challenges, there is

“a level of community spirit and attachment not often seen in local communities in London”.

It is a dynamic and diverse community spirit made stronger during the darkest of days—a spirit that is determined to secure a brighter future for the people of North Kensington. We share that determination and will continue to work with the bereaved, survivors and others. I commend this statement to the House.