An emergency taskforce has taken over the Grenfell Tower disaster relief operation following criticism of Kensington and Chelsea Council’s “chaotic” response.
A team of executives from other London boroughs, Government staff, NHS workers and British Red Cross volunteers have been drafted in amid fury over the Conservative council handling of the crisis.
It comes after Prime Minister Theresa May admitted “support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information” following the devastating fire in north Kensington “was not good enough”.
Families affected by the blaze have condemned the relief effort as “absolute chaos” and complained Kensington and Chelsea council had provided little support and information, with volunteering stepping in to plug the gaps.
One aid worker described the chaotic response as “like being in a disaster zone”.
Staff from Ealing Council in west London took over humanitarian efforts on Saturday and are now running operations at Westway Sports Centre, which has become the main refuge centre for residents of the tower made homeless by the fire.
It comes as Kensington and Chelsea Council faced criticism from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said the authority appeared to “lack the resources” to deal with the fire despite being the wealthiest authority in the country.
Council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown defended his authority’s response, telling BBC’s The World This Weekend: “This was a huge, sudden disaster, a complete tragedy. No one borough alone would be able to cope with the scale of it.”
He added: “The magnitude of this disaster on Wednesday is such that one borough alone would [not] be able to manage every aspect of trying to assess people, help people whose first language isn’t English, help people with young children, with frightened elder relatives. They need a range of specialist support.”
But one aid worker said Ealing council had been “much more co-operative” than Kensington and Chelsea.
She said: “It was very different to get hold of information through [Kensington], we weren’t able to get things done as quickly as possible. Just generally [they had] too much going on in the last few days.
“I think their priorities and organisation was a bit of chaos, it was like being in a disaster zone.”
Volunteers and charity workers on the ground in north Kensington told Buzzfeed News that they were now taking instructions from Labour-run Ealing Council and had been told not to follow directions from anyone else.
Philip Lee-Morris, local authority liaison officer at Ealing Council, said: “We came to the rest centre to try and do as much as we can to turn this effort into a truly humanitarian relief effort for the entire community, to recognise that this tragic event has impacted so many people and we need to ensure there is somewhere that people can come to get help.”
Grenfell tower fire
Kensington and Chelsea council was now providing a “support” role, a spokesman for the pan-London taskforce told The Independent.
They said the “gold command” operation was an established disaster response procedure.
It comes after Mr Paget-Brown met the Prime Minister and Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on Friday.
The families of Grenfell Tower victims also visited Mrs May at Downing Street.
After meeting the families, she said: “The response of the emergency services, NHS and the community has been heroic.
“But, frankly, the support on the ground for families who needed help or basic information in the initial hours after this appalling disaster was not good enough.
“I have heard the concerns and I have ordered immediate action across the board to help victims’ relatives and the survivors.”