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22.06.17

DCLG denies forcing out Kensington CEO following Grenfell Tower tragedy

The chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council has resigned from his £187,000-a-year role after growing criticism over the local authority’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

In his resignation statement, Nicholas Holgate claimed that the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, had called for his resignation on Tuesday. But the DCLG has denied this.

Holgate added that serving the families desperately affected by last week’s fire, in which at least 79 people died, remains the “highest priority” of the council.

“Despite my wish to have continued, in very challenging circumstances, to lead on the executive responsibilities of the council, I have decided that it is better to step down from my role, once an appropriate successor has been appointed,” he said.

The new comes after the Guardian revealed that during the £10m refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, 16 council inspections failed to prevent the use of the flammable cladding that is being blamed for spreading the deadly fire.

Judith Blakeman, a local Labour councillor who represents the Grenfell residents, told the newspaper: “This raises the question of whether the building regulations officers were sufficiently competent and did they know what they were looking at.”

Defending the local authority, Holgate said that whilst the public inquiry and other investigations will get to the truth of the causes of this tragedy and the management of its aftermath, he “strongly believes that councillors and officers have always endeavoured to have the interests of our residents at heart and will continue to do so”.

He added that success in the local authority’s efforts requires leadership across London that sustains the confidence and support of central government.

“There is a huge amount still to do for the victims of the fire, requiring the full attention of this council and many others,” said Holgate. “If I stayed in post, my presence would be a distraction.”

Nicholas Paget-Brown, leader of the council, said it was with great regret that he accepted the CEO’s resignation.

“Like everyone else, the council has been grief-stricken by the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire and has sought to provide the greatest level of support we can to victims,” he added. “That is a huge challenge and Nicholas has led from the front in seeking to do this. However, the council will now need to work in a new way with different partners to take this forward.”

A spokesman from the DCLG denied any involvement with the departure of Holgate, saying: “The appointment of chief executives is entirely the responsibility of the local authority.”

The government announced yesterday that around 250 survivors of the devastating Grenfell Tower fire will be rehoused permanently inside a £2bn luxury Kensington development. The DCLG added that more than 110 housing needs assessments have been completed to date and offers will then be made to families, with this process continuing until every family has been housed.

The new permanent housing is expected to be completed by the end of July.

This week, a number of London boroughs, including Ealing, Hounslow, Westminster, Bromley and Southwark, have been contributing resources in order to ensure “comprehensive humanitarian assistance” is available to survivors, including helping to manage and staff the Community Assistance Centre, running a helpline, providing mental health and wellbeing support, offering guidance on housing and temporary accommodation, and co-ordinating donations.

Also, following the DCLG ordering councils to inspect all high-rise buildings in their areas, a handful of local authorities have announced that they will be retrofitting sprinklers in their high-rise tower blocks in the aftermath of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire.

(Image: c. Rick Findler/PA Wire)

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