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Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Grenfell: Council staff advised to remove ID with growing hostility to officials

Written by Jack Hardy

Council workers were advised to remove ID badges in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire due to mounting hostility against officials, it has emerged.

Senior members of Kensington and Chelsea's social services team claimed a colleague was spat at in the street as the authority came under intense criticism for its handling of the crisis.

Anger was also said to have sprouted from a misunderstanding - with some survivors believing they had not received council support, without realising social workers came from the council.

Clare Chamberlain, director of children's services for three London boroughs including Kensington and Chelsea, told the Press Association: "It is difficult being part of a council that is being told they are rubbish the whole time and where people are being sacked."

Two social workers who have been overseeing work with hundreds of now homeless families claimed this tension was discernible on the ground.

"One person was spat at in the first few days, it was early," said one, who asked not to be named.

"I think since that, we were very clear with people that if they were out of the office and in the community not to wear your ID badges.

"Just because of the fact that there was a mixture of hostility."

But the pair, who worked for a fortnight non-stop following the fire, stressed not every family had felt the same anger towards council representatives.

"I think it is a real mixed bag, because I think a lot of our social workers would say their relationship with the families is really positive and that they are not experiencing a huge amount of hostility directed at them," said the other, who also requested to remain anonymous.

"But I do think it is a balance, because I work for the council and I think initially lots of our social workers were having conversations with families who were saying 'nobody from the council has visited us', but we are social workers who have been there every day."

"It's almost as if social services is one thing and the council is something else," Ms Chamberlain added.

The local authority's headquarters at Kensington Town Hall became a flashpoint for public frustration just days after the fire.

Many survivors were furious at what they felt was a failure by the council to respond quickly enough to the disaster, leading protesters to storm the building on June 16.

"We had volunteers sorting out donations, office people, in the council hall, because managing donations was a task in itself," Ms Chamberlain said.

"They locked the door and turned the lights out and told them to be really quiet so people didn't know they were in there - they were volunteers."

There followed significant upheaval among the council's top team, with its leader, deputy leader and chief executive all quitting their posts.

Ms Chamberlain claimed the departures had a knock-on effect across all departments.

She said: "I think working in a hostile environment and losing political leadership is a little destabilising, the chief executive, the leader, but we are pretty solid in children's services.

"I think we are all involved, at a senior level we are all sharing the responsibility, I think.

"I have a lot of confidence in the workforce in children's services and it's always been very strong, we have always done very well, it is a strong and positive workforce."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) David Mirzoeff / PA Wire.