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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

UK government rejects calls to take over Grenfell tower council

Demonstrators at anti-austerity protests in London hold a banner demanding justice for the victims and survivors of the Grenfell tower fire, which claimed at least 80 lives when a block of social housing caught fire on June 14
Demonstrators at anti-austerity protests in London hold a banner demanding justice for the victims and survivors of the Grenfell tower fire, which claimed at least 80 lives when a block of social housing caught fire on June 14

LONDON // The British government led by Conservative prime minister Theresa May yesterday rebuffed demands by London mayor Sadiq Khan that the council responsible for Grenfell Tower, the high-rise block in which 80 people died last month in a fire, be taken over by the state.

Khan, a senior member of the opposition Labour party who was elected to lead the capital in 2016, called on the prime minister to send commissioners into the embattled borough of Kensington and Chelsea as a result of the authority mishandling its response to the crisis.

The state officials would take over running the day-to-day affairs of the entire council, which saw three high-profile figures quit on Friday and has been heavily criticised for its actions before and after the inferno which took place on June 14.

"It is crucial that the commissioners are people of high standing and probity, have a genuine empathy for local people and the situation they face and be untainted so that all residents of Kensington and Chelsea can have confidence in them," Khan wrote in an open letter.

“I feel the response from the council and subsequent breakdown in trust is so severe that there is now no alternative and the government needs to step in quickly.”

However the mayor’s calls were rejected by communities secretary Sajid Javid, whose department supervises local authorities across England and Wales, and who has led the government’s response to the blaze.

Commenting on the resignation of council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown, Javid said: “It is right the council leader stepped down given the initial response to the Grenfell tragedy.

“The process to select his successor will be independent of government, but we will be keeping a close eye on the situation. If we need to take further action, we won’t hesitate to do so.”

Paget-Brown stepped down on June 30 saying he accepted responsibility for the "perceived failings" of the council, and his deputy Rock Feilding-Mellen also left office the same day.

The political implications of the tragedy, which saw the poorest residents in one of the wealthiest boroughs in the country perish in social housing that had been improperly renovated, were on show during anti-government demonstrations through the centre of the capital.

Speaking to the tens of thousands who attended the march, Labour’s national leader Jeremy Corbyn attacked the “utter hypocrisy of government ministers and others who queued up ... to heap praise on the emergency services [that attended Grenfell], the following day to cut their wages by refusing to lift the pay cap [on the public sector].”