Kensington Society’s message to the Tory councillors

On Monday 3 July, when the Conservative councillors were about to select the next council leader among themselves, the Kensington Society sent them the email below, urging them to select someone who recognises the need for a genuine culture change in the council and can engage with all sections of the community.
Later that evening they chose Chelsea councillor Elizabeth Campbell, who was cabinet member for family and children’s services from 2013 until May 2017. She will be formally elected by the council at its next meeting on 19 July.
Will she deliver change or more of the same? Time will tell…

Elizabeth Campbell will take over as leader of the council (Picture: RBKC/PA)

The Kensington Society’s email:

RBKC is going through probably the most tumultuous time in its history and there could be a challenge to its existence as a single independent authority.

It is essential councillors recognise the need for a distinct break from the past.

We, the Kensington Society, have long voiced our concerns over the lack of genuine public engagement by the council. There has been a we-know-best culture, even a sense of entitlement, among some officers as well as councillors. The general election result for Kensington should not have been a shock. The game is changing.

All this occurred before the Grenfell Tower disaster.

That dreadful tragedy could have happened elsewhere. We doubt that many local authorities have put sufficient thought into fire safety or enough resources into contingency planning. Nonetheless, it happened here and it vividly exposed our council’s weaknesses. Fairly or unfairly RBKC came across as a smug, remote, insular one-party state.

There needs, therefore, to be a genuine culture change in the council.  Local councillors must learn to engage much more widely and directly with the public and the press. They must insist that officers are also more responsive.

At this time above all, what Kensington and Chelsea needs is inspiring leadership: someone new whose instinct will not be to close doors but to open them; someone who can engage both with all sections of the local community and with the media. This will be a key issue at the next local elections.

If the ruling party gets it wrong in selecting a new leader – something it will doubtless do in secret and without external input – the borough risks heading for further chaos and antagonism between the richer and poorer parts of the borough.

Of course the Kensington Society will work with whoever emerges from the process, but we will do so with a heavy heart if the new leader does not show quick intelligence, openness, empathy and, above all, recognition of the need for change.

The Kensington Society

03 July 2017

Published 2017-07-07