Grenfell consultants ‘strong-armed into removing criticisms from report’

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Consultants to the body which ran Grenfell Tower were “strong-armed” into removing criticisms of how it had handled the high-rise block’s refurbishment and were made to “cast them in a better light”, the inquiry into the fire has heard.

Simon Cash, of quantity surveyors and employer’s agent Artelia (formerly Appleyards), said paragraphs critical of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) were removed from a report analysing why the project was behind schedule and over budget around the summer of 2013.

The cost manager told the inquiry on Tuesday that Peter Maddison, the TMO’s director of assets and regeneration, “wasn’t happy that within the report we were raising criticisms of the TMO” and wanted him to make it more favourable so he could present it to his board.

The original report criticised the “piecemeal fashion” of the client brief, “the absence of a controlled and managed scope for the project” and the “late commitment to a defined construction budget”.

But an updated version made changes to “cast the TMO in a better light” and direct more blame towards the original contractor Leadbitter, the inquiry heard.

Mr Cash said he “didn’t necessarily agree” with the alterations but said he made them after a “particularly strong conversation” with Mr Maddison.

He told the inquiry: “He was being very persistent and put a lot of pressure on us to make those changes. I was quite resistant because I felt it was a true reflection of what had happened on the project.

“At the same time this was a report which Peter Maddison was looking to present to his board, and if we didn’t make the changes then the report wouldn’t be presented to the board.

“Therefore the whole basis of the report would have failed completely.”

Inquiry lawyer Richard Millett QC asked: “You were basically strong-armed into making these changes?”

Mr Cash said: “Yes.”

In his witness statement, Mr Cash said Leadbitter was “sometimes slow and difficult in responding” to his “questions regarding its cost estimates and requests for more details and back up for its figures”.

He said it appeared to him there was a “degree of complacency” as it “would have been clear to Leadbitter that the TMO’s preference was to appoint it as principal contractor on the project”.

However, the project was then put out to tender in a process which was eventually won by the firm Rydon in 2014, whose bid of around £9.3 million was the lowest of all competitors.

The TMO then told Rydon it needed to save a further £800,000 on the project, resulting in a process of “value engineering” to get the job done at a cheaper cost.

In addition, Rydon had made a pricing error in its submission, requiring it to find another £212,000, which it sought to do by passing altered cladding figures to the TMO in order to take “some of the savings for themselves” and cover the error, the inquiry has heard.

The inquiry continues.