2020-08-04 10:04:45 UTC
is clearly visible. The enquiry into the fire three years ago has been
grinding along, painfully slowly for the survivors.
I think it was obvious very early that shoddy building practices played a
big part in the tragedy, but only now are some of the details emerging. I
wonder if the culture of layers of increasingly disengaged, cheap
subcontractors has echoes in the railway industry?
In 2015 Rydon’s contract manager at Grenfell emailed his boss to say: “At
the moment we have a poorly performing site which is mainly (but not
totally) caused by poor surveying and cheap, incompetent subcontractors.”
The extensive subcontracting appears to have led to a culture of avoiding
responsibility for quality and safety. In one case a Rydon site manager
admitted to the inquiry that he assumed that the combustible insulation
being installed on the windows was a fire-resistant seal. He did not check
and the material was a key factor in how the fire spread from inside the
The same manager claimed that he had no idea that the people installing the
windows were not staff of the company subcontracted for the job but workers
from a third firm brought in by the subcontractor.
Such practices are normal in the industry. Building firms focus on winning
and managing contracts before outsourcing the rest of the work to smaller
firms that often subcontract to other companies or tradesmen.
Mr Farmer, who runs Cast Consultancy, said: “The industry is dominated by
cheapest tendering, which creates a race to the bottom. Problems such as
structural issues will only emerge over time. We need to urgently change
how we deliver new buildings or we’re just piling up problems for the
The Institution of Civil Engineers says that layers of contracts requiring
lawyers and consultants is one reason why building costs are so high.
It says that it knows of two large projects in London where half the
development costs were spent on commercial management, overheads and profit
within the supply chain.
The same model is used by big housebuilders, which means that only about 15
per cent of staff on any construction site are employed by the named
Mark Farmer, a government adviser on housebuilding, says that layers of
competitive tendering in the supply chain apply cost pressures on smaller
firms, which respond by cutting corners. He says that this model also
creates a culture of “passing the buck”.
“A lot of this is playing out with Grenfell in the finger-pointing and lack
of ownership and accountability,” he said. “Building firms used to employ
their own tradesmen but no longer. Of course there are a lot of good
builders out there but the people operating the final install are often so
far removed from those paying for the work that they don’t feel responsible
for the outcome.”