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Grenfell: Rydon director denies ‘offloading’ contractual obligations

30 July 2020

Rydon refurbishment director Stephen Blake denied that the firm simply “offloaded” its contractual obligations for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, when he appeared before the Grenfell Tower Inquiry on 28 July.

Leading counsel to the Inquiry, Richard Millett QC, asked Blake, who is still an employee at the firm and had previous experience of cladding projects on the Chalcots Estate and Ferrier Point in Canning Town, a series of questions about the contractor’s responsibilities under the Grenfell Tower contract.

Blake assumed the role of contract manager at Grenfell in October 2015, after the departure of Simon Lawrence, visiting site 70-75 times over six months, while still working as refurbishment director.

Millett said: “You say in your statement that Rydon’s role was not to undertake any design work or to carry out the construction work itself. So, in general , does that tell us that the service that Rydon was going to provide to its client was really a pure management service?”

Blake agreed that it was.

Rydon responsibilities

But Millett went on: “We’ve seen from the contract that Rydon – and I think you have accepted – was entirely responsible to the TMO for carrying out and completing the design and the construction in accordance with the contractual obligations we’ve seen, not simply managing it and co-ordinating it . Do you accept that?”

Blake replied that he did. He also confirmed to Millett that Rydon was “entirely responsible” to the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) for carrying out and completing the design and the construction in accordance with its contractual obligations and “not simply managing it and co-ordinating it”.

Millett also asked if Rydon had taken responsibility to its client for the design work carried out by consultants or subcontractors. Blake replied: “In terms of the contractual chain, that’s where we are. But we would manage that by flowing those responsibilities to those who are able to provide that advice.”

Blake also accepted that Rydon remained obliged to ensure that the contract complied with Building Regulations and the products and materials selected on the project complied with British and European standards.

Millett then asked: “In simple terms, Mr Blake, was it your understanding that you could comply with your contractual obligations simply by offloading them on to other people?”

Blake replied: “’Offloading’ is not correct. We placed that responsibility and employed people to provide that advice. ‘Offloading’ suggests that we’re relieving ourselves of responsibility. That’s not how we do it.”

Millett went on: “So is it right that your understanding at the time was that you couldn’t comply with your obligations, or you weren’t complying with your contractual obligations, simply because you had appointed subcontractors to do the things that you had promised the TMO you would do?”

Blake said: “That’s how we fulfilled that obligation, by employing people to carry out those items on behalf of the contract.”

He agreed with Millett that Rydon still retained contractual responsibilities.

The Inquiry continues.

Comments

As a member of the timber frame sector which may potentially pay a price for this debacle if the 11m height ban comes into force, I can’t help but wonder how a failure to discharge the most basic duties under CDM Regs managed to permeate through every party and at every level of this project. At the heart of the Grenfell disaster appears to be a wholesale abdication of responsibility for the dissemination of design information and risk criteria and how specification changes were then managed through the contractor chain. I understand the need for an inquiry, but the CDM Regs are pretty clear about how things should work and who has to do what and when. It will be interesting to see what comes out the back of this inquiry and whether we will get lumbered with additional legislation or if the CDM Regs will stay as they are. Knowing this industry, I know where I’d put my money.

John Groom, 30 July 2020