Britain sends in task force to help run council after tower block fire

Banner hangs from balcony near Grenfell block in London

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Wednesday it was sending in a task force to help run the local authority struggling to cope with the aftermath of a London tower block blaze which killed at least 80 people.

Kensington and Chelsea council has been criticized by victims’ relatives and survivors for its handling of the disaster in Grenfell Tower on June 14 and its leader quit last week over the response to the fire.

“The delivery of the initial response on the ground was simply not good enough,” housing minister Alok Sharma told parliament. He said the task force sent to help the council would focus on housing, regeneration and community engagement.

Within days of the fire, Prime Minister Theresa May promised that all residents from the tower would be offered good temporary homes in the local area within three weeks.

But that deadline passed on Wednesday and, while 139 families had been offered homes, only 14 had been accepted and just three had moved in. Many rejected the homes offered as unsuitable.

“No one will be forced into a home they do not want to move to,” said Sharma.

The main opposition Labour party accused May’s Conservative government of being consistently slow to act.

“It’s been off the pace at each stage following this terrible tragedy,” said John Healey, Labour’s housing spokesman. “The three weeks are up, yet whole families who’ve lost everything are still in hotels and hostels.”

Anger also persists over the failure to provide definitive answers about those still missing since the fire. Some local people say the scale of the death toll is deliberately being kept low.

“I completely understand their desire for answers and we are committed to providing as much information we can, as soon as we can,” police commander Stuart Cundy said on Wednesday, adding that all visible human remains had been recovered.

“In total we have made 87 recoveries, but I must stress that the catastrophic damage inside Grenfell Tower means that is not 87 people. Until formal identification has been completed to the coroner’s satisfaction I cannot say how many people have now been recovered.”

The fire has also thrown a spotlight on the safety of exterior cladding used to provide insulation and improve the external appearance of Grenfell Tower and other high-rise blocks. Since the blaze, the government said cladding tested at nearly 200 sites had failed fire tests.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Gareth Jones)