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Value Engineering: Scenes From the Grenfell Inquiry

On 4th November we were able to see the play Value Engineering: Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry a verbatim theatre production at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill. This presents an overview of important evidence presented to the Inquiry. It’s an effective way to get the story out there of how those involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower conspired to cover up what they knew about the dangerous and life threatening materials used, and also the incompetence and neglect of the Local Authority. Five and a half thousand people will see this play during its month long run in London and a further three thousand when it transfers to Birmingham shortly.

The format, like a court room drama, placed us in the audience in the position of piecing together the individual testimonies from the many companies, fabricators, contractors, subcontractors and officers who are responsible, alongside their e-mails projected onto screens on the stage backdrop. We were following through threads of evidence to realise how devious the web is. A council officers' e-mail refers to having a "Lakanal Moment” when they realise that the proposed refurbishment contains the same faults which caused the 2009 Lakanal House fire which killed 6 people. Various others recall seeing the two e-mails because Lakanal was miss-spelled. No-one took any responsibility to decide it was too dangerous to proceed.

I had never heard the term "Value Engineering” before. It apparently refers to the process whereby a competitive bid submitted by Rydon is pared down from £9.2m to £8.45 in order to win the tender.

There was a disregard for the Tenants' lives, with those who raised concerns over many years referred to as troublemakers. Leslie Thomas QC for a Group of the Bereaved, Survivors and Residents highlights that "the majority of people who died were people of colour…The statistics are glaring, and provide a continuous reminder that Grenfell is inextricably linked with race.”

Michael Mansfield QC speaking for a similar BSR group summed up “ It’s one thing to work out how the fire was caused, and how the deaths were caused: the bigger question is: why did this happen? Its epitomised in the construction industry and the race to the bottom. The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea created a chronic culture of neglect, indifference and discrimination underpinned by a theme of dishonesty in the sense of not revealing information."

The Grenfell Inquiry highlights how race, poverty and social housing are intertwined. It also outlines the total disregard for residents' safety and how the many business interests and this council conspired to cover their tracks and culpability. Sadly these are not isolated circumstances. Let’s continue to work for social landlords, politicians and the construction industry to take their substantial responsibilities for peoples' lives seriously.

Liz Lowe, Tower Blocks UK


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