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Grenfell: Rydon director had ‘private’ access to top TMO decision-makers

30 July 2020
Stephen Blake

Rydon’s refurbishment director Stephen Blake had “personal and private” access to the top decision-makers at the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) in charge of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment contract, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.

Rydon beat rivals Durkan and Mulalley to the contract, having submitted a lower price. Formally, it won the tender on 18 March 2014.

At a hearing earlier this week, Blake claimed that the first he knew of Rydon being in a position to win the contract was on 13 March when he was contacted by the TMO.

But at yesterday’s hearing, leading counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC highlighted an email dated 10 March from Rydon managing director Jeff Henton’s assistant, to Blake, which proposed drafting a message to the bid team indicating Rydon’s appointment would be recommended the following week “subject to a small amount of value engineering”.

The email suggested that Henton had learned the news after a conversation with Peter Maddison, director of assets and regeneration at the TMO.

Later in the same day, Blake then sent an email to Henton, which read: “Spoke to Peter about the award and they are keen to get going. They need to do a fair amount of value engineering, which should be achievable. All in all this feels like a result.”

‘Went back a long way’

In a previous hearing on 28 July, Blake denied that Maddison was a personal friend of his, but admitted that he and Maddison “went back a long way” because Rydon had a long history of work for the Hyde housing association, for which Maddison previously worked.

Speaking at yesterday’s hearing (29 July), Millett asked: “Standing back from this exchange in the middle of March 2014, isn’t the truth that you and Jeff Henton had personal and private access to the top decision-markers at the TMO on this project?” Blake agreed that they did.

Millett added: “And is it not also true that you were seeking to use that personal and private access to maximise Rydon’s chances of winning the tender for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project?”

Blake replied: “Not to maximise. The due process was undertaken and we submitted a fair bid…We submitted our tender, as I said, in an appropriate manner and it was as simple as that.”

“And then had private chats about value engineering to make sure you secured the bid?,” Millett interjected.

Blake said: “That is not on the basis the tender was awarded. The value engineering exercise is a secondary event after the tender has gone through scrutiny from [landlord’s agent] Artelia.”

Value engineering

Millett then moved on to ask Blake about a meeting on 8 May 2014 between Rydon and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RKBC) planning department that he attended in place of contract manager Simon Lawrence about value engineering on the project.

The meeting was to discuss a decision to change from the zinc cladding originally proposed in the tender to aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding and the removal of external “window louvres” so that the TMO could achieve its maximum “VE” (value engineering) target.

Blake said he believed the TMO’s maximum value engineering target to be £800,000. Blake said he expected his role at the meeting to be to ask any questions about construction of the cladding. Lawrence said in an email to Blake prior to the meeting that Bruce Sounes, from architect Studio E would be expected to “lead” in the meeting, on Rydon’s behalf.

When asked who he expected to be responsible for any issues that might arise in respect of the ACM rainscreen cladding panels, with the Building Regulations and Approved Document B, Blake said he expected it to be Studio E and specialist subcontractor Harley Facades.

Lawrence’s email prior to the meeting also read: “We’ve already had quite a lot of debate about the shadow gaps, fixing and fabrication details of the cladding panels, so he [Bruce Sounes] is more than aware that there are cost implications of adding in architectural details that in my opinion you can’t see at height.”

Millett asked Blake if, having read that email, it was his sense that there had been “heavy involvement” by others at Rydon in relation to material selection on the project.

Blake denied this, adding: “Fixing and fabrication is mechanics”.

Reynobond ACM panels

Further on in Lawrence’s email, he highlighted in a bullet point for Blake’s information: “Reynobond ACM panels have a BBA certification Class 0 and service life in excess of 30 years. Good appearance should be retained for 20 years.”

Millett asked if Blake got a sense from Lawrence’s email that it was important “to know and to be able to say” that the panels had class 0.

But Blake contended this was simply background information for him, given that Studio E was taking a lead in the meeting.

Millett then turned to another email from Lawrence to Claire Williams at the TMO prior to the meeting, in which he confirmed that Blake would be attending in his place. In the email, Lawrence noted: “Proposal of material change to the façade. From zinc to aluminium composite (ACM). Put forward our case that ACM is not an inferior product to zinc.”

Millett asked: “Do you accept that this was a clear briefing by Mr Lawrence to you to push Reynobond ACM panels over zinc with the planners…And you had a case to push because ACM generated a much bigger profit to Rydon than zinc?”

Blake said he did not see it as a push at all. He added: “Again, it goes back to the client’s choice of value engineering.”

Cladding savings

Millett also raised an email from Rydon’s commercial manager on the project, Zak Maynard, to Blake regarding savings on the cladding, showing the savings that subcontractor Harley Facades suggested could be made, alongside the savings that Rydon would then offer to the TMO. The email read:

“Ally face fix – Saving offered £376,175 (Harley £577k)

“Ally cassette – Saving offered £293,368 (Harley £420k)

“Alternative zinc face fix – Saving offered £202,372 (Harley £280k)

“Alternative zinc cassette – Saving offered £100,406 (Harley £157k).”

Millett asked: “You must have realised that Rydon wasn’t intending to pass on to the TMO the full savings on the cladding panels that Harley had offered?”

Blake answered: “That’s correct.”

Hindsight

At the end of the hearing, Millett asked Blake: “Looking back on all that evidence and looking back on your involvement in the project as a whole, is there anything that you would have done differently?”

Blake responded: “Hindsight is a gift that none of us have. I in the examination, it’s very clear that, at a point in time when I believed the presentation and acceptance of the windows and the cladding designs had been accepted through the design process and the submission and the exchange with Building Control, I believed this to be correct , and it haunts me that it wasn’t challenged, because it was believed to be correct.”

The Inquiry continues.

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