Cultural change needed in procurement post Grenfell

27 November 2019

A cultural change is needed in the construction sector to address issues around procurement highlighted in the Hackitt review.

Delegates at the Homes 2019 conference in London were told the sector should be acting now on issues laid out by the independent review into building regulations and fire safety produced in the wake of the fire at Grenfell Tower, which killed 72 people in 2017. 

Speaking at Fusion 21’s panel on procuring for quality and safety, Michael Hill, business development manager at tenant engagement organisation Tpas, said: “We shouldn't have to wait for regulation. We're all adults. We've all got professional responsibilities. We shouldn't be waiting for somebody to tell us what to do. 

“From my experience, when you get regulation, the first thing you ask is, 'What can I do to get around that?'. We're all custodians but you have to consider what your legacy will be. What are we going to do now to make the changes needed so that we don't have things like Grenfell happening again?”

Hill said there was evidence of firms making improvements voluntarily such as installing sprinklers, but he added businesses could address issues by bringing in residents to inform sessions and create solutions. 

“All we've got to have is a little bit of honesty and openness, break these things down and bring residents on the journey. There's things that we need to work with residents on and we shouldn't need to be pushed to do that,” he said. 

Rebecca Rees, partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, believes legislation is needed to force a culture change, as procurement professionals are often encouraged to focus on cost savings. 

“There are some very ingrained approaches to procurement that can't be solved any other way. We all, as procurement professionals, are encouraged to show savings at the point of procurement, whether or not they result in a contract that can be managed or produce quality outcomes. As a sector, we're also very poor at managing contracts,” she said. 

“We haven't got rid of these behaviours in the last 30 years so what would change them now? Legislation needs to be that stick-shaped carrot or carrot-shaped stick. We just need something different,” Rees added.

Martin Cawthorn, director of procurement at housing association L&Q, added the outcomes of the Hackitt review provided an opportunity for the construction sector as a whole to learn from other sectors when it comes to safety. 

“From a procurement perspective, I think this is a massive opportunity for the construction sector as a whole. I came into construction about 10 or 12 years ago, having worked in manufacturing and I started my career in aerospace. When you think about the sort of safety aspects in aerospace, my question is whether we've got some lessons to learn from some other sectors,” he said. 

“What I'm looking to do from a procurement function is see if we can introduce some of the concepts and rigour that already exists in other sectors and translate those into the construction sector, because I think that would go a long way to addressing some of the historic weaknesses that we need to to look at.”

CIPS chaired the Procurement Working Group which created a framework to improve standards in construction post Grenfell.

☛ See how CIPS is working to improve procurement in the construction sector in the next edition of Supply Management, out on Friday 6 December.

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