The lead contractor for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment project was tipped off that the job was “ours to lose” before the formal procurement process ended, following an “informal” chat at a conference, the inquiry heard today.
Stephen Blake, who was refurbishment director at Rydon for the duration of the project, was today grilled about his longstanding relationship with the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) and the procurement process which resulted in the firm winning the job.
Rydon was appointed in spring 2014, after bidding against rival contractors Durkan and Mulalley for the contract.
Today it emerged that Mr Blake had a “professional relationship” with Peter Maddison, director of assets and regeneration at KCTMO, that dated back to the early 2000s when Mr Maddison worked at housing association Hyde.
The inquiry heard that Mr Blake had forwarded an initial email from KCTMO’s consultancy Artelia about the project to Jeff Henton, managing director at Rydon, describing it as “the Peter Maddison scheme which is right up our street”.
Mr Blake had earlier claimed to have had no contact with Mr Maddison before the formal tender process.
When asked to clarify his response, Mr Blake said: “We may have had an exchange about other bits of work but if it was specific about the tender, we didn’t have any dialogue about that... and I would see that as both people being totally appropriate.”
Today the inquiry was shown an email sent by Mr Blake to a legal representative at Rydon that read: “At the housing conference we had meetings with senior representatives from K+C [Kensington and Chelsea Council]... we have been informally advised that we are in pole position – ours to lose.”
He confirmed under cross examination that this was a reference to either Mr Maddison of KCTMO or Sacha Jevans, its executive director for repairs.
This referred to the Chartered Institute of Housing’s South East conference in Brighton held in March 2014. The conversation took place one day before Rydon’s tender interview with KCTMO.
Last week the inquiry saw an internal Rydon email sent by Mr Henton a week later on 11 March – before the result of the tender was announced – which read: “I have spoken with Peter Maddison at KCTMO who informs me that our price… is in first place.
“Therefore subject to a small amount of value engineering, Peter should be in a position to recommend our appointment on this scheme to his board early next week.”
Mr Blake was also questioned about Rydon’s decision to attempt to keep more than £100,000 of the savings made by switching to the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding by hiding the true cost of savings from KCTMO.
When asked about this, Mr Blake said: “Changing in a contract environment is a way of creating margin for a contractor and that’s what we’ve done here.”
When asked who made the decision not to pass all the savings made from the switch onto KCTMO, Mr Blake said: “I don’t know, but I’m responsible for that, so it’s me.”
Phase one of the inquiry found that the ACM cladding was the “primary cause” of the spread of the fire.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues.
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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