The council needs scrutiny over decisions it takes with public money

Thursday, 30th June

chalcots cladding removal 2017 Camden new journal Image 2020-05-22 at 09.41.11 (26)

Cladding being removed from the Chalcots

• THE announcement that Camden has settled its claim over the Chalcots cladding work for £19million has been accompanied by some heroic spin from the council as the best that could be achieved.

However this £19million is a drop in the ocean compared with both the costs that Camden has incurred and the £130million that it sued the contractors for.

The new contracts to reclad the towers currently amount to £99million. However to this must be added the cost of the evacuation, the cost of the earlier removal of the defective cladding, the immediate remedial work to poorly compartmented gas pipes, the installation of missing fire stopping, and the replacement of all the front doors to the flats. All this may hike the actual cost to over £200million.

This settlement is a mere tenth of that. Far from a victory for Camden, it appears to be an admission of defeat. It leaves the council with egg on its face and a £100million hole in its budget compared with where it claimed it would be.

Early in the process of composing the extent of the fire safety works, it was also decided that all the windows should be replaced at the same time.

This may have been a gambit by Camden to “prove” that all the works carried out under the previous contract were defective and that this would prevent legal debate on the extent of any responsibility. The effect was to hugely increase the cost of the works.

The leader of the council has reported that this settlement has helped balance the housing revenue account. That account should not have been so endangered in the first place.

Camden is not an amateur client and has its own building control department and many officers in the housing department with extensive construction expertise.

That the original cladding works were so defective should leave the council with some deep soul-searching over its in-house failings.

The upcoming phase 2 inquiry must expose these failings to repair the lingering lack of confidence.

The report should also set out all the costs to clarify the true size of the Chalcot case without applying the unrealistic positive spin that the report in the June 23 CNJ conveyed. This has cost Camden dear, and the council must be honest about it.

To illustrate the continuing question mark hanging over Camden’s capability as a client, there remains the concern over the cost differential between the contracts for Blashford and the other four towers.

The unit rate for the cladding of the four larger towers is £5,500 per square metre; but for Blashford, it’s £10,200 per square metre, or very nearly twice the price.

With £100million written off in this settlement, Camden vitally requires knowledgeable scrutiny over the decisions it makes with public money.

The sad fact is that this vital role has recently been diminished. Can the few remaining opposition councillors please pursue these questions?

Former Belsize Conservative Councillor, 2018-22

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