Our safety supremo’s time in a war zone
Keith Scott reveals how he was caught up in conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen
07 December, 2017 — By John Gulliver
Keith Scott, Camden’s ‘residents’ safety’ supremo
KEITH Scott is the first senior council official I have met who has been under-fire in a war-zone. He is also one of the few I’ve met who grew up on a council estate.
But a bigger surprise is the answer he gave the town hall interviewing panel for his post as Camden’s “residents’ safety” supremo – the first to be appointed by the council.
“What do you think of social housing?’ he was asked by a panel member.
“I’m in favour of it, of course – but it has to be safe housing,” he emphasised.
But there were one or two things he apparently didn’t mention to the panel. He didn’t tell them he had grown up on an old estate in Brixton. Nor that he had served as a Labour councillor for eight years in Greenwich.
“Social housing? What did they expect me to say, I was a Labour councillor, a socialist,” he told me.
A bluff, hearty man of 54, Mr Scott suddenly – and quite spontaneously judging from the excited look that crossed his face – moved from side to side and began talking about the time he ended up near the war zone in the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
It turned out that apart from having once been head of safety at the Royal Mail he had also run a safety department for a giant dairy company in Saudi Arabia that had a herd of 185,000 cattle serving Saudi Arabia and neighbouring states.
About a year ago he had gone to one of the company’s depots on the edge of an area under fire from rockets and was checking his figures in his hotel when suddenly he saw rockets flying virtually overhead. “I’d never seen anything like that before!” he said.
But after three years with the company he thought it was time to come back to London.
He started work at 16 as an usher in a juvenile court in Marylebone and after gaining diplomas in safety ended up managing magistrates’ courts. But hungry for more responsibilities he gained two “masters” in safety degrees from Leicester University through long-distance learning after hitting the books for years at weekends and evenings.
As a “fellow” of various national safety institutes he has been taking part in “round table” discussions under Dame Judith Hackett, appointed by Whitehall to inquire into building regulations following the Grenfell disaster. Camden council tenants have also joined these discussions.
The Grenfell disaster – what caused it? Wasn’t it probably down to weakened building regulations? I asked. I expected him to nod, at least in half-agreement, but, to my surprise, he cited a study that had shown that “unforeseeable” changes may have taken place in the material used with the cladding which, in turn, would have set it alight. “There is such a thing as unforeseeability,” he emphasised.
I felt he was instinctively defending the “safety” practices of the profession he had spent most of his working life in.
Mapping out his next steps Keith Scott discussed plans to involve Camden council tenants in similar discussions on “safety and security” on their estates.
“We need to engage tenants – they’ve got first-hand knowledge about their estates, it’s invaluable we involve them,” he said.
As we waited for the lift at the Town Hall to take us to the exit he suddenly began to chuckle as he switched back again to the big interview day. It was still on his mind, it seemed.
“Apart from the interview I had three psychometric tests as well as a test by a psychologist,” he said. “Three psychometric tests,” he repeated in case I hadn’t caught him. “They sent me the report by the psychologist, and I asked my wife: ‘Is that me?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that’s you!’” I couldn’t tell from the look on his face what he thought of that.