Poor procurement practices can “kick-start” bad behaviour in construction projects, a review of the Grenfell Tower disaster has concluded.
The final report of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety said procurement “sets the tone” for the relationship between stakeholders including clients, designers, contractors and subcontractors.
“The procurement process kick-starts the behaviours that we then see throughout design, construction, occupation and maintenance,” the report said.
“Issues at this stage, for example inadequate specifications, focus on low cost or adversarial contracting, can make it difficult (and most likely, more expensive) to produce a safe building.”
The review looked at the failures across the built environment sector that contributed to the fire at Grenfell Tower last year, which killed 72 people and left hundreds of others homeless.
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.
Dame Judith Hackitt, who led the review, said there was a “systemic problem” in the sector.
“The current system is far too complex, it lacks clarity as to who is responsible for what, and there is inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement,” she said.
Highlighting the role of procurement, the report said it was incumbent on buyers to ensure correct behaviours are driven through the supply chain.
It said safety should be considered from the invitation to tender, and that tender reviews should test safety requirements.
The report highlighted how bad contract requirements can encourage poor behaviour. For example low margins for large contractors may lead them to push technical risks onto their subcontractors, who may be less able to mitigate them appropriately.
Payment terms, late payments and retentions – where payment is withheld as a form of guarantee for good work – can also put strain on the supply chain, the report said.
As part of a culture change procurers must prioritise safety by “thinking carefully about the content of contracts”, considering the “long-term integrity” of buildings and considering best value not lowest cost. “Best value is dependent on establishing a collaborative partnership between the client, the contractor and their supply chain,” the report said.
The report’s recommendations included:
- A new regulatory framework for fire safety in tall residential buildings.
- A new Joint Competent Authority that combines several existing regulatory authorities.
- Clearer rights for residents and defined pathways for residents to raise safety concerns.
- A more effective testing regime for building materials and methods, and more product traceability.
James Brokenshire, secretary of state for housing, said he welcomed the report and was committed to making the recommended reforms happen “as quickly as possible”.
He said: “This was a terrible tragedy that should never have happened. I welcome Dame Judith Hackitt’s comprehensive report and her calls for fundamental reform in the building sector. I am committed to making that happen as quickly as possible.”
He added he would consult on banning the use of combustible cladding on high-rise residential buildings.
The report was published just days before a public enquiry into the disaster began with tributes from the families of those who died.
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