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Mon November 18 2019

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Rydon inclusion fuels controversy over government construction framework

7 Nov Just a week after being allotted a place on the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) construction works and associated services agreement, Rydon has been told by the government that it ought not bid for any work through it.

Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities & local government
Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities & local government

Rydon’s place on the £30bn framework, the method by which most government construction work will be procured for the next seven years, sparked a backlash because of the company’s role in putting an illegal, flammable cladding system on the Grenfell Tower.

Out of 31 lots available to contractors on the framework agreement, Rydon was selected for just one – high rise accommodation works in the south of England.

Survivors of the fire that gutted the tower and killed 72 cried foul.

Grenfell United, the survivors’ support and campaign group, tweeted: “@cabinetofficeuk need to remove Rydon from the recommended list Now! Phase 2 of inquiry will handle the future. @GrenfellUnited will not let these ‘business as usual’ relationships carry on while we still await justice...”

The Cabinet Office line was that it had no grounds to exclude Rydon until it had been found guilty of doing something wrong. The official inquiry in the Grenfell Tower fire doesn’t start to explore the culpability of contractors and suppliers until January.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "Being on a framework does not guarantee a company will secure government contracts and does not constitute an endorsement of them. Under existing EU rules, we are not legally allowed to preclude Rydon Construction from bidding for government contracts.”

However, the secretary of state for housing, communities & local government Robert Jenrick decided he could not stay silent and responded via the same medium: “I understand why survivors and bereaved do not want to see public contracts awarded to the main contractor for the Grenfell Tower refurb until we have the full results of the inquiry. The contractor should not bid for further work until we know the truth.”

The Guardian newspaper interpreted this as "Government drops Grenfell contractor in sudden U-turn".

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But a Cabinet Office spokesman told us that tweets from ministers' personal Twitter accounts do not constitute government policy. As the tweet came from his personal account, it seems that Mr Jenner was merely offering advice to Rydon to keep its head down and was not issuing an instruction.

Several Twitter users noted that Mr Jenrick’s choice of the words ‘should not’ fell short of what they would have preferred to see.

For example, Chris Blythe, the former chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building, responded (also on Twitter): “I would prefer ‘must not’!”

The next dispute surrounding the £30bn CCS agreement is set to centre on the inclusion of at least three contractors – Galliford Try, Kier and Seddon – who have had their Prompt Payment Code membership suspended for failing to pay suppliers on time. Ministers have previously stated that persistent late payers "could be" banned from public contracts.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said in November 2018: “From next year, if government contractors are late with supplier payments, they could stop winning public contracts altogether - until they clean up their act.” (Crack down on suppliers who don’t pay on time read the headline to that press release.)

When 'tough new rules on prompt payment' came into force in September 2019, minister for implementation Simon Hart said:  “We’re making it clear to big businesses that they must get their payment records in order or face the very real risk of missing out on large government contracts in the future.”

The inclusion of contractors suspended from the Prompt Payment Code on the Cabinet Office’s newly produced list of approved suppliers demonstrates quite how hollow and meaningless those words were.

'Should' and 'could' are miles away from 'shall' and 'will'.

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