By Julia Gregory, local democracy reporter
The Labour opposition at Kensington and Chelsea council has a new leader.
Mo Bakhtiar was elected at the local party’s AGM after his predecessor stood down.
He takes over the helm at a time when the Grenfell Inquiry’s spotlight is turned on the Conservative-led council for its role in the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.
The council has always been run by the Conservatives since it was founded in 1965.
Voters will go to the polls next year to elect a new council.
Mr Bakhtiar was first elected to the council in 2014 to the St Helen’s ward in the north of the borough.
He replaces Pat Mason who stepped down after two years as opposition leader.
The Golborne ward councillor said he was suffering from PTSD because of the horrific events at Grenfell. He becomes the chief whip for Labour instead.
Cllr Mason said he was proud of increasing the number of black and ethnic minority councillors chairing scrutiny committees on the council.
And he said: “We tried to make it real to the council what has happened to Grenfell, the psychological damage that it has caused and continues to cause.”
Councillor Bakhtiar arrived in the UK 23 years ago from the Iraqi-held part of Kurdistan to escape the regime of Sadam Hussein.
He worked as a lawyer there and was a columnist writing about human rights issues.
He said one of his aims is “to always find common ground for people.”
The borough faces a tough task in helping people recover from the challenges of covid. It’s seen an increase in food bank use and 8,900 people were furloughed.
Councillor Bakhtiar joined other councillors of all parties delivering food to needy people in their wards.
He said he will also push for support in providing local jobs for local people after the council approved a motion he proposed a few years ago.
“There are so many hundreds and thousands who have been struggling. A top priority is education and extra classes. So many families can’t find money for (private) classes for their children to catch up.”
Another priority is housing for people waiting on the council waiting list.
And Mr Bakhtiar is also pushing for the council to provide independent support for residents and campaign groups opposing developments.
Whilst developers can pay for advice from the council people who oppose the plans can’t access a similar service.
“This is unfair.
“I have been calling for a department separate from the council completely.”
At this year’s budget meeting his proposal to fund two officers in the planning department to advise objectors was turned down.
But he is continuing his campaign to give residents access to experts for free.
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