As a result of the failure this school and, after further investigation, 16 other schools together with a Secure Unit and Community Centre were closed while further intrusive checks and remedial works were completed. CEC had to put alternative arrangements in place for the education of the affected children until summer 2016.
The Inquiry was chaired by Professor John Cole CBE who was assisted by panel members Mr Stewart Macartney, a structural engineers and Mr Chris Phillips, a lawyer.
The report is a considered and measured examination of the background events and issues and the steps taken in response to the wall failure. It contains a number of practical recommendations to be taken forward by various people with different responsibilities. While the report considers the circumstances of the CEC situation, many of its observations and recommendations are likely to apply to other Local Authorities and public and other private bodies who may have been involved in such construction projects in the past or who may now be contemplating future construction projects.
The mains points are;
- At the time these projects were being planned, PPP was considered by Local Authorities and other public bodies as an appropriate way to procure urgently needed school infrastructure improvements against a background of "squeezed" public finances. The then Scottish Executive encouraged this as an appropriate way forward. It met the financial value tests. CEC was not be criticised for adopting this method of procurement.
- CEC responded well in dealing with the unavoidable disruption and inconvenience caused to pupils, parents and teachers. While there may have been some criticism as to early communication, this was because of difficulty in obtaining information from others and was remedied when CEC got the information themselves.
- The failures in the building arose primarily as a result of poor quality construction and poor quality supervision of construction. In particular this arose from the poor quality of the bricklaying and the failure to properly install wall ties and masonry restraints. Panels of brick or blockwork at high levels were not appropriately secured. Concern was also identified in relation to fire stopping provision, which is an issue which has been identified more widely in the UK.
- The defects in the buildings could not have been identified by external examination alone and had in practice not been picked up by the certification and inspection regimes under the contracts. This has implications for walls which have already been constructed as, without contemporaneous checks, the only way to confirm that they have been constructed properly is through intrusive inspections.
The main recommendations are;
- Bodies should review their commissioning and procurement processes to ensure a stronger role for the client on the basis that bodies such as CEC can not divest themselves of their statutory duty to ensure the safety of those using their schools etc. They need to be satisfied that the level of inspections in their contracts is actually meeting the requirements in respect of the quality of the build. The body needs to be a “properly intelligent customer".
- As part of the review process, bodies should be aware that the evidence to the Inquiry suggested that financial considerations have meant that independent checks such as those carried out by a Clerks of Work have tended to disappear. Bodies should consider if this is appropriate in considering their risk assessment of the project. The Inquiry identified that the Independent Certifier role may also not be sufficient to ensure the degree of assurance required.
- The lack of "as built" drawings caused difficulties. Provision of the drawings may well have been part of contract requirements but in practice were not necessarily delivered. Updating drawings throughout the build should be required and, if they are not delivered in terms of the contract, this should be followed up.
There were recommendations for consideration by those responsible for training and the supervision of the quality and skills of relevant workers in the construction industry.
The report accepted that Building Control had not been inappropriate in fulfilling their role with respect to the buildings under this contract. However, the Inquiry suggested they may wish to reconsider the emphasis in practice with regard to the focus of such inspections, for example with respect to the quality of the build itself rather than focussing on drainage matters. They also suggested that requirements as to certification relating to occupancy or completion, or the absence of such certification, should be more closely monitored and followed up.
A more open sharing of information by clients regarding potential defects in buildings was suggested for consideration.
While the defects were identified in the buildings subject to this PPP contract as a result of the inspections following a wall collapse, the Inquiry report suggested that since many different contractors, teams and companies were involved, it is possible that such defects may exist in other buildings. CEC should therefore undertake a proportionate and risk based approach to investigating their wider estate, specifically looking at the defects identified here. Other clients of other similar scale and form of construction may also wish to consider a similar approach in respect of their buildings.
CEC have accepted the recommendations and will take them forward. Scottish Government is also to look at the Report for their interest.
While many of the recommendations are CEC specific they are also applicable to other public and private bodies with a history of procuring buildings. The key message from the report is that clients in future should make sure the supervision of the build ensures the desired quality outcome and that they should properly assess the risk which may arise from any failure to get this right. Clients should not assume this is not a matter for them.
The report says "build it right first time". The recommendations are an attempt to ensure that happens.