Compounded Stupidity

About fifteen years ago the Council decided that they would create a structural repairs contract as well as one for external decoration for our three tower blocks which we manage on their behalf. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to consult with us about any of the details of the contract. I did manage however to arrange to attend the monthly contractor/management meeting with the “Project Manager” reviewing the contract. At the first of these meetings I took along my secretary (to take notes) and my treasurer. Clearly, I could tell that neither the project manager or the senior contractor were happy with me turning up with two women, but the meeting did progress slowly through the first agenda. However, about an hour into the meeting, the project manager turned to the three of us and said ”I’m sorry but we now have to turn to the technical building details that you girls won’t understand, so perhaps it will be best if you leave the meeting now!”

I was deeply shocked by his attitude and immediately accused him of being a misogynist. “No” he spluttered, “what I meant to say was that the next bit of the meeting is where I discuss with my contractor contract details that are private and cannot be shared with the tenants or residents of this estate, and anyway those contractual details are of such complexity that none of three of you will understand a word of what we are discussing.” This riled me even more, so I pointed to my secretary and said “Mrs H. here is a noted architect in her own right and Mrs W. works in the management office of Bovis the international builders, I quickly added – and I have worked in the building trade for over thirty years, (I was lying of course, about the two women) “so please use as much technical information as you like, I’m sure the ‘Girls and I’ won’t have the slightest problem in following your discussions.”

His splutter became more pronounced, as he got up from the table saying he had to leave to attend another meeting. “No” I objected, “PETRA our TMO (Tenant Management Organisation) is supposed to be partners with the council and your attitude seems to us to be a long way short of that partnership’s principles”. He got even more flustered when I said, “We intend to put in a formal complaint about your conduct at this meeting and that’s what I will do unless I can have your categorical assurance that we will be given all relevant information about this contract!” Clearly, I had rattled him, I think he was trying to work out if Mrs H. was indeed an architect as well as the ramifications of me lodging a complaint. He capitulated without any further smart arse comments saying “Well what do you want?” “OK I said, Mrs H. will want to see all of your technical drawings and I want to see your “Bill of Quantities for this contract!”

Over the next few weeks we did receive detailed drawings as well as all the written information we had asked for but, all further meetings between the council and its contractor took place either at the Town Hall or at the contractors office. They used many spurious excuses as to why we never were invited to any meetings. However examination of the drawings showed that it was intended to cut out some external brickwork in order to gain access to the “cavity trays” (the membrane at floor level between the external brickwork and the internal concrete walls). These trays were a major problem on the estate as they failed to redirect any rain water that managed to breach the cavity between the two walls. This happened because of the faulty ‘Crittel’ metal windows. Redirected water should be discharged through “Perpends” (small weep holes)just above the slab level.

However, when I checked the bill of quantities I noted that the bill of quantities, it was clear that they (presumably the council) had only budgeted for thirty linier metres. So after very careful investigation between the drawings and the bill of quantities, I picked out at least thirty items that were either overpriced, under estimated, or not needed.

A couple of years later I did get a meeting arranged with the council, but by then the project manager had retired and of course the contractor had been paid. It was disappointing when the meeting refused to acknowledge any of the items I had picked out from the contract details.


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