THE COMPANY was asked for a ‘quick and dirty’ costing for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, and was ‘informally advised’ it was first choice for the job ahead of the end of procurement, the inquiry heard.
The second phase began with hearings delayed due to witnesses asking that ‘anything they say will not be used in criminal prosecutions’. This was granted and later extended. After resuming post COVID-19 suspension, the first week heard a senior fire engineer ‘did not raise the need for any proposed cladding system to have a separate fire safety assessment’, while another was sent the cladding design report but didn't view it.
Two fire consultants gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents; Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea clashed over fire safety; another consultant ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’; and a Studio E architect said no drawing records were kept and aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was the ‘cheaper option’.
Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence admitted it ‘overlooked’ a key document ‘regarding the fire hazards of certain cladding materials’ and relied on other companies to check subcontractor work; admitted it ‘did not check’ the ‘expertise’ of Studio E; admitted it ‘pocketed’ £126,000 from the switch to ACM; denied giving assurances about ACM not burning ‘at all’; and called residents ‘rebels’ and ‘persistent and aggressive’.
There was ‘no evidence’ Rydon employees had responded to emails ‘seeking clarification on cladding safety’; and Rydon project manager Simon O’Connor admitted he ‘did not know’ about nor was 'familiar' with fire safety regulations or building regulations, and was ‘unaware’ of some responsibilities ‘as it was his first’ such job. Yesterday, final site manager David Hughes believed Rydon had been ‘quite thorough’ in checking work quality.
BD Online and Inside Housing reported on refurbishment director Stephen Blake's evidence, with Appleyards’ associate director Robert Powell - a consultant working for Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) - having asked Mr Blake for a ‘quick and dirty’ price to prepare for the procurement process.
Appleyards was working with KCTMO to help it ‘find firms’, and the email was sent before ‘the launch of the formal exercise’, 11 months before selecting a preferred bidder. Mr Blake believed Mr Powell ‘had been seeking help to establish a budget for the project’, with Appleyards the employer’s agent and quantity surveyor for the refurbishment.
Asked by inquiry counsel Richard Millett why he thought Mr Powell had contacted Rydon, Mr Blake said that he thought Mr Powell ‘had been hoping the firm would do his job for him’. Asked what he had meant by a ‘quick and dirty’ costing, Mr Blake stated this meant ‘very high-level costings, without much detail or interrogation’; the request had ‘come at short notice’ and he had ‘not been able to assist with a figure’.
He put Mr Powell in touch with two colleagues ‘just to retain a relationship with him in connection’ with the project, which Rydon was ‘interested in doing’. Rydon won with a bid of £9.2m, ‘significantly lower’ than rival bids including from KCTMO’s original choice Leadbitter, which had quoted £11.2m - £1.6m ‘above’ KCTMO’s budget.
Rydon was ‘informally advised’ it was in first place before the process ended, and was told it was ‘ours to lose’, according to Mr Blake. He was questioned about his ‘professional relationship’ with KCTMO’s director of assets and regeneration Peter Maddison, which ‘dated back to the early 2000s'.
He forwarded the Appleyards email to Rydon managing director Jeff Henton, calling it the ‘Peter Maddison scheme which is right up our street’, having earlier claimed to have had ‘no contact’ with Mr Maddison prior. Asked to clarify this, Mr Blake stated that ‘we may have had an exchange about other bits of work but if it was specific about the tender, we didn’t have any dialogue about that...and I would see that as both people being totally appropriate’.
An email from Mr Blake to a Rydon legal representative however read that ‘at the Housing conference we had meetings with senior representatives from [KCTMO] … we have been informally advised that we are in pole position – ours to lose’, the conversation taking place a day before Rydon’s tender interview with KCTMO.
Another email from Mr Henton on 11 March – a week later, before the tender contract was awarded – stated ‘I have spoken with Peter Maddison at KCTMO who informs me that our price […] is in first place. Therefore subject to a small amount of value engineering, Peter should be in a position to recommend our appointment on this scheme to his board early next week’.
An ‘adding-up error’ in Rydon's bid meant it was £212,000 lower than it should have been, while KCTMO needed to ‘shave’ £800,000 off the winning bid to meet its budget. Mr Blake said that the error and KCTMO’s need for savings had not left Rydon ‘under water’, adding that the £800,000 ‘is a client choice’.
Rydon and Harley Facades ‘looked into’ cheaper alternatives to the originally specified zinc cladding, proposing ACM in either riveted or cassette form, but Rydon gave KCTMO ‘smaller savings figures’ than quoted by Harley; stating there was a saving of £376,000 not £576,000 if face fixed ACM was used, and £293,000 not £419,000 for cassettes.
Asked why the full savings had not been revealed, Mr Blake responded that ‘change in a contract environment is a way of creating margin for a contractor and that’s what we’ve done here’. On being asked if Rydon had a responsibility to inform KCTMO of the ‘full extent’ of savings, he said that ‘we'd made a choice to put that [smaller] saving to them. That’s how it is’ – and he ‘did not know’ who had made the decision.
However, he ‘accepted that he had ultimate responsibility’, and also accepted that pushing for face fixed ACM would have been a ‘mechanism’ for Rydon to ‘recoup’ most of the £212,000 from its error. The inquiry also heard that the three most senior Rydon managers ‘directly responsible’ for the refurbishment ‘were all newly promoted’, and it was their ‘first post-promotion role’.
Mr Blake had filled in for Mr Lawrence after he quit and Mr O’Connor resigned, and was asked if this meant the project ‘had effectively lacked a full-time contracts manager’, to which he said this was ‘not the case’ as he had visited the site ‘at least’ 75 times while in the role.