In a previous blog we commented on fire safety in light of the horrific fire at the Grenfell tower block. Since then an interesting fact about the responsible council has come to public attention, or has perhaps been more clearly emphasized:

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) – the council responsible for Grenfell Tower – had, at the time of the fire, some £270 million in the bank.

We accept that it is wise for all of us, not just councils, to keep some liquid assets available for a rainy day. We do feel, however, that £270 million would pay for an amazing amount of rain… With that kind of money it would seem they were almost in business to make a profit.

Having such large sums of cash can create problems in itself. The first question to address is at what point do you stop amassing money? Our personal experience is that truly rich people never seem to feel they have enough money no matter how much they have. The second question is when, and on what, are you willing to spend it? For RBKC at least, it would seem that £270 million is not enough for them to have; they still had to try and save some £200,000 on cladding for Grenfell Tower.

We cannot wrap our minds around the reality of having £270 million in the coffers and yet deciding to ‘save’ £200,000 by opting for a cheaper, less safe, lower standard of cladding than the type previously recommended and agreed to. It is also interesting that no-one involved in making that decision actually lived in the tower block.

To stop this practice of councils hoarding so much money our first inclination was legislation, but after sombre thought we realised that legislation is no substitute for good sense and reasonable, humane behaviour. It is one of our great fears that our society is quickly reaching the point where the more laws we have, the less will actually get done and the fewer problems will be addressed. No, the real issue is one of never wanting to spend the savings and when that happens the money, except for accruing interest, is rendered completely useless.

Let’s look at a relevant example. On the first morning after the Grenfell Tower fire the council could have called temp agencies throughout London requesting about 100 people. These temporary employees could then have been equipped with suitable council ID, clipboards etc., and with written instructions on how to talk to the people affected by the fire and who had losses, human or otherwise, as a result of it. They could have noted names, addresses, what and who they had lost, their accommodation needs, etc., but above all could have provided a sympathetic, listening ear for them, while taking down their stories. They could have coordinated relief efforts, sorted and distributed donations, organised temporary shelter, and provided vital information to those beginning the search within the tower. It could be argued that such roles would require specialist training, but looking at what actually happened on that and subsequent days shows that the people who did all these things were just members of the local community – ordinary people, doing what had to be done.

Perhaps we can forgive the fact that no-one on the council had the idea to get representation on the ground, although surely anything would have been better than nothing. However, is it possible that someone had indeed had the idea but was told that there was no budget available to hire 100 temporary employees? And what about the £270 million? Ah, well that’s all in long-term investments, earning yet more money…

Large amounts of money, whether saved by individuals or councils, become almost holy – they can’t be touched, they must only increase, they become a ‘precious’.

So we would really love to know just what it would take for RBKC to spend only half of their £270 million on the people whose tax payments have contributed to that pot of cash. A tornado? A hurricane? Total flooding up to 20 feet? For it to affect the rich population in the Borough? What?

In our opinion it is totally unreasonable for any council to have this much money in the bank. We do not know how true they are but there are many stories of people dying of thirst in the desert who still had water in their canteens. Our saddest thought is that RBKC feels that having this amount of money is a proud achievement. Well pride goes before a fall.