Grenfell Tower

THE GUARDIAN Letters Friday 16 June 2017

In 2014, I received my Kensington and Chelsea council tax bill and a letter from the leader of the council, Nicholas Paget-Brown, explaining that all residents who pay council tax in full would “receive a one-off payment of £100”, to be deducted from the bill. This bonus, the letter continued, was due to the council’s careful management of its finances over the years, “consistently delivering greater efficiencies while improving services”. Austerity, K&C style: you give to the rich while taking from the poor (nobody with discounted bills or claiming council tax support was eligible to share in the bounty of the town hall blue-chips).

On a Conservative website, Paget-Brown further explained that “thanks to an overachieving efficiency drive”, the council was “well ahead of [its] savings targets for the year”. Triple AAA credit status, how nice. In deciding what to do with this surplus, he continued, “we have taken the view that it is simply wrong to discount from our calculations whose money this was in the first place. In short, we think the right place for it is back with our

In May 2014, the local election returned a huge majority of Conservative councillors. Business as usual. For years, the Royal Borough has got away with bribing the electorate with its own money. For years, the Royal Borough has been running huge underspends in its revenue budgets which it then transfers into capital reserves. The underspend in the 2016-17 adult services budget alone is £1.9m. Apparently, adult services in the area are doing so well they don’t need the money. And every other social service must be performing brilliantly, as the council’s projected reserves of £167m by the end of 2016-17 has climbed to a staggering £209m – that’s £42m surplus to requirements. How many sprinkler systems is that?

As the toxic ash of Grenfell Tower’s vanity cladding falls over the neighbouring streets, we are left with the acrid truth in our throats: regeneration in the Royal Borough is in fact a crime of greed and selfishness. I took the refund. At the time, I felt uncomfortable with this decision and the ways in which I justified it to myself. And then I forgot about it, until the smoke drifting into my flat in the early hours of Wednesday woke me up. Today, I gave it back. It wasn’t ever mine to keep. I handed it over in cash to a vicar running a refuge for the victims of the fire in a local church. I explained that it was not a donation, not a charitable act, that it was guilt money and he was doing me a kindness by taking it off my hands.

If you live in Kensington and Chelsea, please, give your rebate back. But not to the council, which seems to have trouble in identifying those – “our residents” – who might actually need it.                                                                   Name and address supplied

LOOSE CANON

Read Giles Fraser’s comment here.