Kensington Council and DCLG resist criticism of major comms recruitment drive following Grenfell tragedy

Comms professionals have hit back at criticism of a drive to recruit up to 30 staff to improve community engagement and consultation with the public in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.

Grenfell fire: Kensington & Chelsea Council and DCLG are recruiting comms staff in aftermath
Grenfell fire: Kensington & Chelsea Council and DCLG are recruiting comms staff in aftermath

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are jointly planning to bolster their comms teams following the tower block fire that killed around 80 people in June.

The new fixed-term posts would see comms staff working on engagement on the ground, as well as reassuring the public through the wider fire safety testing programme that is currently under way.

But the move has attracted criticism from the residents’ association covering the area that includes Grenfell Tower, with its chair attacking the council for "dedicating too much time on useless communications".

The council has also been accused of wasting money on the roles, which range in salary from £26,550 to £49,525.

Two of the posts will be within DCLG, while up to 28 comms staff are being recruited at RBKC, in short-term contracts of up to a year.

DCLG comms spokesperson Thomas Lambert said: "We’re committed to doing everything we can to support those affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster and to make sure high-rise buildings across the country are safe.

"That's why we've worked with colleagues from across the Government Communications Service to support those affected by the disaster and to inform the public of our ongoing fire safety programme. We'll continue to assign the necessary financial and staff resource over the coming months."

DCLG is recruiting a senior comms officer and a comms officer on temporary loan from across the Civil Service, who will support ministers, officials and members of the independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, as well as the local authority.

Meanwhile, sensitivity over the crisis continues to be an issue, with Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham Conservatives surveying some residents this month by post for their views on the Grenfell tragedy and help for the families who were affected.

However, RBKC hopes the expansion of its comms team will help "rebuild trust with an entire community", according to its job ad.

"Our new leader and chief executive recognise the council needs to work in new ways and form new partnerships, both in the area where the fire occurred and across the whole borough," it stated.

"To help achieve this, the council needs to strengthen its communications and community engagement teams, working across media relations, digital, stakeholder and internal communications."

A survey into public confidence in the Grenfell inquiry earlier this year found that public sector comms professionals must work hard to retain trust.

A Kensington and Chelsea Council spokesperson said: "The independent task force has made it very clear that the council needs to engage more with local communities and improve the quality of the information we provide.

"We intend to follow that recommendation and so we need to recruit skilled staff to improve upon this. The new roles we are recruiting for are focused on community engagement and consultation – the areas of weakness identified by the task force."

In the new roles, comms officers will be required to communicate and engage effectively with residents and those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, work closely with colleagues in other relevant teams and organisations to ensure an effective, integrated and consistent approach and support the wider cross-government narrative on the Grenfell response and recovery.

Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, added his support to the recruitment drive, calling it "100 per cent correct".

"In the light of the appalling event earlier this year, communicating with, and listening to, residents, council taxpayers, civil society groups and the broader local and indeed national community is absolutely vital," he said.

"First-class communications are vital to any public sector body – especially one facing challenging issues. As the industry’s regulator and voice, we stand completely behind those public sector communicators doing their job."

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