The framework addresses competency failings which contributed to the Grenfell tragedy. © Gurbuz Binici /Getty Images
The framework addresses competency failings which contributed to the Grenfell tragedy. © Gurbuz Binici /Getty Images

New procurement framework to improve safety after Grenfell

The construction sector should introduce a new competency framework for procurement professionals to put safety above price following the Grenfell Tower review, according to a report. 

“Poor commercial practices” resulted in a culture in procurement that prioritises time and cost over quality and safety risks.

Requirements set out in the new framework aim to change this behaviour across the procurement process and within supply chains. 

The Raising The Bar report, by the Industry Response Group (IRG) and The Competence Steering Group (CSG), addressed “competency failings” set out in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future post-Grenfell review.

The report outlined recommendations from 12 groups of industry experts to improve standards for safety in Higher Risk Residential Buildings (HRRBs) through enhanced competency frameworks.  

CIPS chaired the Procurement Working Group which established the HRRB Procurement Competence Framework. 

This procurement framework is built on best practices in procurement based on the CIPS Global Standard for Procurement and Supply.

The key recommendations in the report included a mandatory “Procurement lead for HRRBs with a comprehensive HRRB procurement competence level”, which would be part of all stages of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Plan of Work. 

The “procurement lead” will assess and be accredited to ensure they have the correct level of knowledge and expertise on HRRBs required by the new procurement competence framework. However, the individual is not required to be a procurement professional.

It is highlighted that a culture change is necessary in the construction sector for the role, and the industry needs to raise awareness of the new requirements to ensure understanding and compliance.

The new requirements have embedded best practices that use a “safety-first mentality” intended to drive a new culture in the construction sector.

Contractors and clients working on HRRBs need to create contracts that “specifically state that safety requirements must not be compromised for cost reduction”.

“It is clear that the current approach to tendering and contracting reinforces these price-focused behaviours,” said the report.

The report called for the government, local authorities and the private sector to adopt the new framework and that the same requirements should be applied to “other multi-occupancy residential buildings and to institutional residential buildings”.

“The government accepts this recommendation and will work with procurement professionals across the public and private sectors to develop standards and disseminate procurement best practice that prioritises safety outcomes,” said the report.

Contractors have expressed fears that the new requirements set out will cause them to lose out to competitors with lower prices.

Duncan Brock, group director at CIPS and chair of the procurement working group, said: “Throughout the working group discussion there have been many examples provided of poor commercial practices which have led to a focus on price and margin at the expense of safety.

“We know that profit margins throughout the construction industry are low and with high levels of competition there is a real concern, despite the best intentions of everyone involved in the various working groups, that the culture of low prices and undercutting of competitors will continue.

“A balanced approach to decision-making at every stage of the sourcing, contracting and contract management process is needed,” he added.

Projects led by underqualified procurement professionals have led to poor decision-making and spread the behaviour of prioritising cost over quality and safety throughout the supply chain, according to the report.

Overall, the frameworks in the report cover 12 professional disciplines involved in construction, including design, inspection, assessment, and management and maintainenance. This includes procurement professionals, engineers, fire engineers, fire risk assessors, and building standards professionals.

An independent body – the Overarching Competence Body – will also oversee assessments and competencies created and drive further progress. 

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the CSG was established a year ago by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and leading industry bodies, at the request of the IRG. The steering group has worked with 300 representatives across construction, built environment, fire safety and building owner/manager sectors.

The Grenfell Tower, a 24-story building in North Kensington, London, was destroyed by a major fire that broke out on the morning of 14 June 2017, which left hundreds homeless and killed 72 people. One of the reasons the fire spread so quickly was the use of external cladding, added as part of a renovation project, that did not meet fire resistance standards. This led to scrutiny of the procurement process.

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