Studio E, the architecture firm behind Grenfell’s controversial renovation, manipulated fees in order to avoid an open tender, an inquiry has heard.
Bruce Sounes, the lead architect on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, told the inquiry fees had been deferred at the request of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) in order to avoid exceeding the OJEU threshold.
Under EU procurement rules, public sector contracts valued over a certain threshold must be put out to public tender across the bloc.
Project meeting notes written by Sounes on 24 July 2012, and submitted to the inquiry, said: “The TMO [tenant management organisation] would like ... the total fee up until Stage D not exceeding £174k, which is the OJEU threshold for requiring work to be tendered. This will probably mean deferring some fees.”
He later proposed “a 50% deferment of all stage D fees to keep the total stage D fee below £174k” to Mark Anderson, the director of assets and regeneration at the TMO.
Sounes told the inquiry: “I understood that this limit was the maximum contract value permissible under EU procurement regulations, above which KCTMO would have to follow a compliant procurement process in selecting consultants.
“Such a process might involve advertising and tendering the opportunity publicly or using consultants from an approved framework list… I believed the overall fee to deliver the project would be higher than the OJEU threshold, and Studio E may not be able to qualify in a bid process.”
Studio E has already admitted it would have not been likely to win under a competitive procurement process as it had no experience in high-rise buildings and overcladding works.
In an internal email shown to the inquiry, Sounes told a colleague: “Studio E was ‘a little green on process and technicality’, because Studio E, as a practice, had not previously been involved in high-rise residential, heating renewal nor the overcladding of occupied buildings.”
Sounes was questioned as part of the second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, which is examining “the decisions which led to the installation of a highly combustible cladding system on a high-rise residential building”.
The cladding – made from thin sheets of aluminium filled with polyethylene – was responsible for the fast spread of the fire, which resulted in 72 deaths on 14 June 2017.
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