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Grenfell: Rydon manager complained of ‘cheap, incompetent’ subcontractors

23 July 2020

The Grenfell Tower refurbishment was a “poorly performing site” in 2015, which main contractor Rydon’s contracts manager blamed on “cheap, incompetent subcontractors”, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.

Simon Lawrence, the former Rydon contracts manager who was in charge of the site, made the admission in an internal email to a colleague in which he complained that “I haven’t actually seen a budget for Grenfell in the last eight months at least.”

When asked by leading counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC who the “cheap and incompetent” subcontractors were, Lawrence said “I think that’s just me having a general vent”. He said he could not recall who they were.

Millett replied: “You must have felt pretty worked up about it to be able to say things, even internally, this candid. I’m just wondering why you can’t recall.”

He then went on to ask why Lawrence felt the site was performing poorly.

Lawrence said it was down to “poor surveying”. He added: “And I’m guessing at this because I don’t recall – it’s probably to do with orders and getting subcontractors on site in a timely manner.”

Asked what he would have done to make sure that subcontractors would have acted competently, Lawrence said he had conversations with his colleagues.

Budget

Millett asked Lawrence to confirm if his complaint about the budget meant that the contracts manager hadn’t seen one from around the time Rydon signed a contract in October 2014 with the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) until June 2015, to which Lawrence replied that it did.

Millett asked if not seeing a budget for eight months rang alarm bells with Lawrence. “You were the contract manager on this project. How can you account for not seeing any budget at all for a period of eight months?”

“I can’t,” Lawrence replied.

Millett suggested that this was a “pretty big lapse” and meant that Lawrence would have had no control over cost overruns.

But Lawrence replied that there was still a team within Rydon dealing with it: “It’s not as if receipts are just being put in a drawer and forgotten about. It’s being managed by a managing surveyor of equal level and his team, but it would be preferable to see the budget, yes.”

Millett replied: “I’m going to suggest to you that it would be essential for any contact manager to keep absolute tabs on the budget on a regular basis throughout the life of a project, surely?”

Lawrence said: “I don’t think it would be absolutely essential quite as you are suggesting because we have other parts of the department that deal specifically with that element.”

Workload and resources

With Lawrence due to leave the project in October 2015, another email between Neil Reed of landlord’s agent Artelia UK and Claire Williams of the TMO, expressed concern about the workload the Rydon contracts manager faced.

Reed noted in the August 2015 email: “Simon Lawrence leaving in 12 weeks…with no indication of contingency planning.”

Under a section headed “resource levels”, it added: “I think Simon needs help with what appears to be an overwhelming volume of work to manage in the coming weeks.”

Millett asked Lawrence: “Do you accept that, by August 2015, Rydon was not committing sufficient resource to the Grenfell Tower project?”

Lawrence replied: “I don’t know in what context and what resource we are talking about because I don’t think the site team or the team as a whole had particularly changed.”

But he conceded: “There’s always a considerable amount of work to do, yes… And I was involved more from a hands-on point of view than probably you would expect of a contracts manager.”

Asked why he didn’t go to the client for an “extra pair of hands”, Lawrence said he wouldn’t go to them but internally to Rydon. Asked why he didn’t do that, Lawrence said: “Because I felt that I was obviously doing my best to cope with it… We’re always under time pressure and volume of work.”

‘Nonchalance’

Millett also brought up an email sent by Reed in May 2016, after Lawrence had left the project, in which he accused Rydon of “nonchalance”.

The email read: “This is just to flag this is becoming a farce: despite all our efforts to ensure a smooth landing, I have to say I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance. We are all getting sucked into doing far more than we ought to at this stage of the project.”

Reed went on to complain about “additional site visits, additional meetings, endless emails on design-related issues that don’t concern us”.

Millett asked if this was a fair criticism of Rydon up to the point at which he left on 23 October 2015. Lawrence replied: “No, I don’t think so.” He also confirmed that neither Artelia nor the TMO had accused him or Rydon generally of “nonchalance”.

The Inquiry continues.

Comments

Many site all over the country carrying on in this way I should think

Dave Taylor, 23 July 2020

I would agree with the previouss comment. This procedure is par for the course. Contractors seem to have a free hand and dictate what products are used. Their decision is determined by price rather than whether the product is fit for purpose. This is clearly evident in regard to electric cable systems.

Geoffrey Williams, 23 July 2020

Well who allowed and passed their work. Every job, all work and workers are notifiable. Take responsibility for your own actions

Sheila Anderson, 23 July 2020

Don’t think I ever worked (over a 40 yr period) within a contracting environment where the contracts manager was actively involved in regular Cost/Value Reconciliation (CVR) meetings.
In most cases the contracts manager did not want to be involved in such meetings, often saying” I want nothing to do with the money side of things” or words to that effect.
Personally, I always felt this to be the wrong attitude as the site “team” (I use the term lightly) should have a handle on how well or badly the contract was performing and perhaps more importantly why!
As for cheap subcontractors, in a lowest price wins culture and environment unfortunately the estimator will usually submit the lowest price subcontractor within the final tender leaving the QS little or no option but to accept them. I often had the conversation with the estimator as why on earth they went out to so and so? and the answer was pretty much always, do you want the work or do you not?
There is always the issue of the site QS going back out to tender to try and screw the subbies down via discounts or seek new and cheaper tenders. Sometimes, this is as a result of the QS seeking to make a name for themselves from a commercial point of view (or to maximize performance bonuses) and be noticed by the bosses but often it is also the case that management instruct the QS to go back out to the marketplace and squeeze as much out of the supply chain as possible so as to meet profit targets set by the top brass.. Whether this is right or wrong I will leave for others wiser than me to discuss, but it happens and it has happened throughout my career and no doubt beyond. I somehow suspect that despite the textbooks it will continue for a long time to come.
It was only on a few rare occasions that the cheapest subbie was not accepted and this was only because they had made such a mess of the last job.
I think/hope this side of the investigation highlights the breaches in best practice so that a light can once again be shone on what actually goes on within the industry.

Rod McLennan MRICS, MCIOB, FHA, 24 July 2020