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One Year On From Grenfell, Procurement Is Still A Race To The Bottom, Expert Warns

London's Grenfell Tower on fire 14 June 2017.

One of the foremost experts in construction-sector innovation has warned that cost is still winning over quality when it comes to procurement in construction in the public sector in spite of the warning provided by the fire at Grenfell Tower a year ago.

Cast Consultancy Chief Executive Mark Farmer, who wrote an independent review into the need for innovation in the construction sector in 2017, told Bisnow that in order to address some of the issues raised by the Grenfell Tower fire, a widespread cultural change was needed in the construction sector and the public sector bodies in charge of providing social housing.

The independent review led by Dame Judith Hackitt into building regulations and fire safety in the wake of the fire on 14 June 2017, in which 71 people died, did not recommend a ban on flammable materials being used in construction, in spite of the fact that Hackitt herself called for such a ban shortly after her report was published.

A separate public inquiry into the causes of the fire is ongoing.

“I think there is a feeling that something is not quite right in our industry, a combination of Grenfell and a lot of other things,” Farmer said. “Something is not quite right in the system. Grenfell hasn’t been a driver for change, and that doesn’t really surprise me. We need to change the entire way we design, build, procure and construct buildings, and unless something is regulated the industry will just continue along.

“There has been a lot of focus on the procurement side, and however unpalatable it might be, the same things are still going on out there, the lowest price is still winning out over quality and certainty, and as long as the people paying carry on that way things won’t change.”

Greater innovation in the construction sector is needed to help reduce costs for cash-strapped public bodies, and greater skills are required at all levels of the value chain, he said.

“We need to look at how we innovate to bring costs down so that people in the private and public sector can take a more balanced approach when looking at cost and quality. And we need to improve skills at every level. It is a case of client pull and industry push.”