Elizabeth Campbell, the leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) has said sorry for putting profits before people in a series of deals that leased out public property for commercial gain.
It related to the sale of leases on a public library, a teacher training centre used by council staff working in family, children and educational services, and a building housing a Citizens Advice bureau, to private school operators including Notting Hill preparatory school, which charges £21,000 a year per pupil. The assets were all in the more deprived north of the borough and part of a wider property strategy for the area aimed partly at boosting revenues to the council.
“Before 2017 the council did not find the right balance between financial benefits, and social benefits,” Campbell said. “Too often the council put the narrow goal of generating commercial income above the broader aim of delivering benefits to our wider community We fell below the bar on consultation, transparency, scrutiny, and policy. We cannot say hand on heart that residents were involved every step of the way, or that the council put their interests first and foremost, and for that we apologise.”
Ed Daffarn, a Grenfell survivor who questioned several of the property deals before the fire, said, “This report goes some way in capturing the culture of a local authority that had metamorphosed into an agent for property development; an organisation that treated the North Kensington community with contempt while playing it’s perverse game of monopoly with our public assets. "
The council’s chief executive, Barry Quirk, set the council’s failures in the context of the 2010 austerity policies of David Cameron’s coalition government, which required local authorities across the country to find new ways of raising funds.
“The period from 2010 established new orthodoxies in local government as the then government’s approach to fiscal consolidation led to substantial reductions in central government or national taxpayer-financed support for local government,” he wrote. “In the period from 2010 to 2017, councils’ ‘core spending power’ was dramatically reduced. Across London, the ‘spending power’ of councils was reduced by an average of 32%.”