Her Majesty the Queen was subdued on her birthday. So are we all after the film The Towering Inferno became reality at Grenfell Towers. Reality without the hero, without the Hollywood sanitisation protecting us from thinking about slow deaths due to smoke inhalation. The film was clean, vision only. There was no smell of fear, no burning of heat, no difficulty breathing, no choking or coughing. There was no edge of panic in voices and actions.
A scapegoat is demanded for Grenfell Tower. If only our anger could be focused on one evil person, who, with malice aforethought, set the fire trap. The building is owned by Kensington Council so their leader could be held responsible. We heard Nicholas Holgate, CEO of Kensington and Chelsea Council has been made to resign but, so far, the political leaders have escaped intact. Should we blame the architect who designed the building, or the builder who built it? Let’s blame the company that renovated it, or the company that supplied the cladding. Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) could be the one to carry the can. KCTMO seem to be the only ones to realise that the trap was set but no one would listen to their protestations.
The politicians have deftly deflected blame onto a CEO. The politicians themselves have turned up at the site to look sympathetic and concerned and I am sure they are.
Who responds to disasters?
Two matters strike me as odd, even reprehensible. First, all hospitals have contingency plans for disasters, so do ambulance services, fire service and police but town councils? Not their job. I understand that the staff went home on time and stayed home over the weekend. It seems there is no mechanism to deal with a person, they can only deal with his or her ID, credit card, passport, rent book but when a person doesn’t have these, they cease to exist. Computer systems cannot cope, staff are not permitted to make decisions, the computer must do it but cannot do it because there is a missing piece of ID, a missing number. No matter that the person is stood there in his pyjamas, his only clothes.
— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) June 18, 2017
People can cope. It was individuals who went with offers of food, clothing, shelter, support of all kinds. They did their best to supply what was needed.
Secondly, there is a local institution awash with money and wealth to which many locals devote their lives; Chelsea Football Club. I have not heard that that they have given much back to the community that keeps them rolling in wealth. They have hospitality suites which could have been used as temporary accommodation, they could have donated a few of their £30-a-time FA cup final shirts to those who lost their clothes.
We are responsible
I think we are all to blame in a small way because we are all part of a society that set the fire trap. We have all succumbed to an idea that has surreptitiously invaded our minds. The idea of Money First. The private sector makes money from offering something to people, the public sector takes money in taxes and spend it in the service of people and we, the people, earn our own money and spend it in a way we deem suitable.
How it happens
Imagine a company that makes a widget successfully and has steady sales. A thrusting new executive wants to increase profits but, fresh from business school, he knows nothing much about widgets. He looks at the workforce, decides to cut the older experienced guys at the top of the salary scale and replace them with younger fellows at lower salaries. Next, he can ‘outsource’ some jobs like cleaning and secretarial services, maybe packing and delivery by offering contracts less onerous than the standards the ‘in house’ team worked to.
Then the product, can it be made cheaper? Why not buy mild steel bolts instead of the expensive ones made of processed steel? The older experienced guys could tell him why not but they have been dismissed.
Then a bolt corrodes and fractures and a calamity happens. The young thruster must speak to the press. “We take safety extremely seriously. We will co-operate fully with the enquiry. Our quality control is second to none. We are determined to learn lessons and move forward.”
What he really means is: Make sure all remaining bolts are disposed of and a new batch of the old processed steel ones brought in. Make sure those health and safety guys do not get to know this. No employee must talk to the press. We will sweep this under the carpet.
The company has caused a disaster, it cannot be called an accident as the situation was deliberately set up. The company workforce is demoralised and scared for their jobs, share price falls and customers lose confidence in the widget.
— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) June 16, 2017
A similar thing happened at Grenfell Tower but in a more diffuse, less pin-downable, way. The building belongs to Kensington and Chelsea but is managed by KCTMO. Somebody decides on refurbishing. A company was asked to supply cladding and the cladding manager knew that to get the job he had to send in the cheapest quotation. The council (or delegate) was bound by law to accept the cheapest quote consistent with the specification.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) June 23, 2017
Who has the whole picture? In the interests of economy functions have been devolved, delegated, divided, relegated, consigned and out-sourced to the point where nobody is sure who is doing what. Tenants have a contract to pay the rent – pay up and keep quiet. Politicians, bureaucrats, officials, authorities and organisations will speak to one another but not to the people. A basic property of all organisations is that they organise themselves for their own benefit – not for the people they are supposed to serve. Authorities and organisations have become more important than the people they are supposed to serve.
What to do
The self-importance of our institutions is reflected in the architecture of their buildings. They are designed to appear imposing, impregnable, overwhelming and threatening. Fortress-like facades emphasise the importance of those on the inside and belittle those on the outside.
We bear a responsibility because we have allowed a Money First, Organisation Dominated culture to develop. We need to return to a culture of People First.
— Grenfell Response (@grenfellsupport) June 21, 2017