It’s a standard mantra of the modern left that democratic and local management systems operate better than the purely impersonal forces of capitalism. This is held to be doubly so in the provision of housing. If local tenants, allied with local politicians, managed and ran the local housing then all would be so much sweeter than some faceless corporation waxing fat off the rents.
Well, yes, and then we’ve got the actual evidence that reality offers us to look at. Here’s how Grenfell Tower was managed:
The TMO has a board comprising eight residents, four council-appointed members and three independent members. Labour councillor and now MP, Emma Dent Coad was a council-appointed board member from 2008to 31 October 2012.
Membership is open to any named tenant or leaseholder of a property owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea who is over the age of eighteen.
Local people managing local housing. What could go wrong?
On 14 June 2017 a large fire engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-floor, 120-flat block managed by KCTMO.
Grenfell Action Group, the block’s tenant organisation, had repeatedly warned of major fire safety lapses since 2013. A blog entry posted on 20 November 2016, described KCTMO as “an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia” and predicted that only a “catastrophic event” leading to “serious loss of life” such as “a serious fire in a tower block” would result in change. At a meeting in January 2016, the residents association presented the findings of a survey which found that 68% of residents had felt harassed or intimidated by the KCTMO or its contractors, and that 90% were dissatisfied with the manner in which improvement works had been carried out.
Maybe local people managing local housing isn’t all that good an idea. And then we get today’s news:
The organisation that managed Grenfell Tower received warnings about a series of fire safety failures months before the blaze, unpublished documents have revealed, according to ITV.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, residents said they had been warning the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which managed the building, about fire safety concerns for years.
Additionally, it has now emerged that both the fire service and an independent fire risk assessor had repeatedly flagged serious problems before the blaze on 14 June 2017, which killed 72 people.
The independent assessor’s warnings were issued in June 2016 and recommended action on more than 40 “high-risk” issues within two to three weeks, according to documents seen by ITV.
In October, the assessor wrote to KCTMO and asked why action had not been taken on more than 20 issues identified in the June report.
We’re really not seeing that local tenant control batting 100 here, are we? Which does lead to that politically unacceptable question. Perhaps private landlords would not have clad the tower in flammables, would have installed fire doors that actually worked, even a sprinkler system, who knows? And if they hadn’t we would have someone to blame other than the current general call for Tory Austerity to be to blame, wouldn’t we?