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05.07.17

Javid: LG must rebuild, refresh and reinforce public trust

Following the recent Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, which led to the resignation of the CEO and leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, local government is facing a “looming crisis” in public trust, the communities secretary has stated.

Speaking at this week’s LGA Annual Conference yesterday, Sajid Javid said that, as a country, the families of those affected by the blaze had been failed.

“There are many questions that need answering about the Grenfell Fire,” he said. “There may have been failures by individuals, failures by organisations and failures of public policy at all levels stretching back several decades.  

“The public inquiry will get to the bottom of what happened. We must allow that inquiry, and the criminal investigation, to run their course, and be careful not to prejudge or prejudice either of them.”

Asked by an audience member if he would send in commissioners, Javid was non-committal. But it has been revealed that the government intends to send in a taskforce to manage parts of Kensington council’s responsibilities, including housing, regeneration, community engagement and governance services.

This is due to be confirmed in a written statement to MPs. However, it stops short of the London mayor’s call for commissioners to take over the whole council.

“Nine London councils have been involved in the recovery at Grenfell – and I am grateful to the LGA for the work they have been doing with my department to ensure that other towers around the country are safe for the families that live in them,” Javid continued.   

“But none of this changes the fact that, in Britain in 2017, the fire at Grenfell simply should not have been possible. Nor does it change the fact that there were serious failings in the immediate aftermath; failings that created unnecessary suffering for residents who had already suffered too much.”

He added that the sector must “rebuild, refresh and reinforce the trust” that local people have in local democracy. But that won’t happen by hiding away, Javid was quick to mention, adding that local government must show that it “is for the people – not just of the people”.

After lambasting local government, the communities secretary stated that things have to change and get better with regards to Whitehall’s relationship with the sector.

“I can’t promise you’ll always get what you want,” he said. “But whether you ask for help, identify risks, or suggest opportunities, I can promise that we will listen.”

Honesty around housing

During his speech, Javid referenced the next steps of the £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund. He also added that if areas develop “ambitious proposals” to meet housing demand, he will “consider all the tools at my disposal to support you in that”.

“I want to strike some housing deals with a small number of places, so if you are one of those ambitious councils, you know where to find me,” he said.

And once again, the communities secretary called for greater honesty with regards to housing.

“There’s a serious shortage of decent, affordable housing in this country,” noted Javid. “It’s not the fault of any one government or party – we all carry some of the blame. We need to rethink the entire process of development and, as ever, that starts with planning.”

He added that years after local housing plans were introduced, some councils still haven’t produced one or some are “hopelessly out-of-date and irrelevant” or they “have an up-to-date plan, but have failed to be honest about the level of housing they need in their area”.

“It’s not good enough,” argued Javid. “The era of tolerating such poor, patchy performance is over. I can confirm that this month we will launch a consultation on a new way for councils to assess their local housing requirements, as we promised in the housing white paper.”

The aim, he said, is simple: to ensure these plans begin life as they should, with an honest, objective assessment of how much housing is required.

“That means a much more frank, open discussion with local residents and communities,” he said. “If we can tackle the injustices caused by our broken housing market we will be making a significant step towards rebuilding the trust in local politics.

“But it is far from the only injustice that we need to deal with. And as with housing, fixing any of these problems is far easier said than done. We are talking about deep-set issues and it would be dishonest to suggest it is anything other than the work of years to address it.”

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