Key figures at Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) who oversaw the Grenfell Tower refurbishment held a “secret meeting” to discuss cost savings with the project’s lead contractor in a contradiction of legal advice, a witness has admitted.
David Gibson, previous head of capital investment at KCTMO, admitted to the Grenfell Inquiry that he attended an “offline” meeting in which it was discussed how Rydon could further reduce the costs they had originally quoted for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment.
When asked by Richard Millet QC, counsel to the inquiry, whether the conversation was “a secret meeting and therefore should be unrecorded”, Mr Gibson replied “yes”.
The inquiry has previously heard that KCTMO began discussing possible ‘value engineering’ options with Rydon before the end of the tender process after all bidders quoted above KCTMO’s budget for the Grenfell refurbishment, but today was the first time the organisation has been asked directly about the process.
Similar discussions did not take place with the other project bidders.
Today, the inquiry heard that the meeting was held despite legal advice KCTMO had obtained from law firm Trowers & Hamlins, which said it would be a breach of EU regulations for a “contracting authority to undertake negotiations with the tenderers prior to contract award”.
With an estimated cost of £9.2m, Rydon was the lowest bidder for the Grenfell refurbishment. However, KCTMO hoped to reduce the budget by a further £800,000 to £8.4m.
Almost £300,000 in savings were eventually made on the project as a result of the decision to switch from zinc cladding to the now notorious aluminium composite material (ACM) panels.
When asked by Mr Millet whether KCTMO’s budget for the Grenfell refurbishment was “simply too low”, Mr Gibson disagreed.
He said: “I think that we were actually quite pleased when we saw the Rydon tender submission figures, because it wasn’t as big of a gap as we thought there might be and we thought this is something that we can make work.”
The inquiry also heard today from Claire Williams, a former project manager at KCTMO.
She was grilled on KCTMO’s decision not to hire a client design advisor. Last week, the consultants used by KCTMO on the project said this decision was made because KCTMO did not want to pay an additional £30,000 in consultancy fees.
Ms Williams denied that cost was a factor in KCTMO’s decision not to hire a design advisor and said it was instead because adding the role “would have muddied the waters”.
She said: “I couldn’t think of anything positive about it because we had a design and build contract, where the responsibilities for design lie clearly with the contractor. This would be an additional tier that perhaps wouldn’t bring anything to the table.”
The inquiry continues.
Week one: A vivid picture of a broken industry
After a week of damning revelations at the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week two: What is the significance of the immunity application?
Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to the attorney general requesting protection for those set to give evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Peter Apps explains what the move means
Week three: Architects of misfortune
This week saw the lead architects for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment give evidence to the inquiry. Peter Apps runs through the key points
Week four: ‘I didn’t have any perception that it was the monster it’s become’
The architects continued to give evidence this week, outlining a lack of understanding of the fire risk posed by the cladding materials and its design. Nathaniel Barker reports
Week five: ‘No adverse effect in relation to external fire spread’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry returns from its long absence, Peter Apps recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the fire consultants to the refurbishment
Week six: ‘I can’t recall any instance where I discussed the materials with building control’
Nathaniel Barker summarises what we learned from fire engineers Exova, architects Studio E and the early evidence from contractor Rydon
Week seven: ‘I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’
Two key witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Peter Apps recaps some of the key points from a revealing week of evidence
Week eight: ‘It haunts me that it wasn't challenged’
Four witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Lucie Heath recaps what we learned on the last week of evidence before the inquiry breaks for five weeks
Week nine: ‘All I can say is you will be taken out for a very nice meal very soon’
This week the inquiry heard evidence from witnesses at Harley Facades, the sub-contractor responsible for Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 10: ‘As we all know, ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!’
As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry entered its 10th week, Jack Simpson recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the refurbishment’s cladding contractor
Week 11: ‘Did you get the impression Grenfell Tower was a guinea pig for this insulation?’
With witnesses from the cladding subcontractor, the firm which cut the deadly panels to shape and the clerk of works which inspected the job giving evidence this was week full of revelations. Peter Apps recaps the key points
Week 12: ‘Would you accept that was a serious failing on your part?’
With the surveyor who inspected Grenfell Tower for compliance giving evidence, this was a crucial week from the inquiry. Dominic Brady and Peter Apps report
Week 13: ‘Value for money is to be regarded as the key driver for this project’
With consultants to Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) giving evidence, attention at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry turned for this first time to the actions of the TMO and the council. Peter Apps reports
Week 14: ‘Did it not occur to you at this point that your budget was simply too low?’
This week, for the first time in phase two, the inquiry heard from Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the landlord that oversaw the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Lucie Heath reports
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