Calls for public inquiry over further school asbestos revelations in Walthamstow

The former Warwick School for Boys site in Brooke Road, Walthamstow.

The former Warwick School for Boys site in Brooke Road, Walthamstow.

First published in News East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Photograph of the Author by , Senior reporter

RULES designed to ensure councils get value for taxpayers' money were broken twice during the hiring of contractors to deal with asbestos at a school, it has emerged.

The council has already come under criticism from parents after the toxic fibre was discovered at the former Warwick School for Boys site in Brooke Road, Walthamstow, just weeks before hundreds of children from St Mary's Primary were due to be relocated there in September.

Three classes and 18 staff from St Mary's had already moved in to Brooke Road in September 2011 and an investigation is reportedly underway into whether any children were exposed.

Now it has emerged that two companies were paid to do asbestos-related work at the site in the summer without quotes from other firms being gathered first, so the contracts were never put 'out to tender' to ensure best value.

Risk management firm GBNS was paid £52,425, while Pectel was contracted to do asbestos removal work worth £39,100. The company was later paid a further £38,100 without any tendering.

GBNS was given a further £37,250 after alternative quotes were finally sought.

Campaigner Nick Tiratsoo, who helped uncover a string of council failures to comply with contract rules designed to prevent fraud over cash earmarked for disadvantaged residents, said he was "astonished" by the revelations.

The figures are from a report into the issue by the council's Audit & Governance Committee. It said that GBNS was brought in immediately to help contain the Brooke Road site when the asbestos was identified.

The report states that the urgency of the situation justified the immediate involvement of GBNS, but it was wrong for the firm to then be given additional work without any tendering process or a formal waiver of the rules.

The work was commissioned by NPS London (NPSL), a firm part-owned by the council to manage its buildings.

It has now agreed to write to all staff reminding them that they must comply with the council's procurement rules in future.

The Audit & Governance Committee's report said what happened was "unacceptable". Mr Tiratsoo said: "The revelations about Brooke Rd become ever more astonishing. Key documentation charting asbestos contamination goes unread.

"Romanian construction workers are put in considerable danger. An ‘independent’ report [commissioned by NPSL] turns out to be produced by a company part-owned by the council, which features the council's chief executive Martin Esom and Cllr Mark Rusling as directors.

"And now we discover procurement rules relating to work on the site are ignored. Surely its time for the local MP, Stella Creasy, to intervene and demand a public inquiry?"

The Guardian has approached Ms Creasy for a response.

Comments (15)

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6:46pm Thu 22 Nov 12

uncanny says...

I support a public inquiry, I hope Stella agrees.

This is a disgraceful situation and the Council have a lot to answer for. They have been rude and suggested the school reign in the parents for causing a fuss. They obviously didn't want all this found out and hoped we'd go away. I think that is unlikely now...

I cannot believe Cllr Rusling is a director of NPS. How on earth is that independent? Jobs for the boys as per usual.

I think it's about time the Council answered to the public and people who pay their far too high salaries! I could do a better job than any of the lemons I've had the misfortune of meeting over the St Mary's debacle!!
I support a public inquiry, I hope Stella agrees. This is a disgraceful situation and the Council have a lot to answer for. They have been rude and suggested the school reign in the parents for causing a fuss. They obviously didn't want all this found out and hoped we'd go away. I think that is unlikely now... I cannot believe Cllr Rusling is a director of NPS. How on earth is that independent? Jobs for the boys as per usual. I think it's about time the Council answered to the public and people who pay their far too high salaries! I could do a better job than any of the lemons I've had the misfortune of meeting over the St Mary's debacle!! uncanny
  • Score: 1

6:54pm Thu 22 Nov 12

Helen, Walthamstow says...

I second uncanny's comment with the added suggestion that the range of any inquiry should be widened to take in the role of NPS in major school works and expansions across the borough.

Though other schools don't have (as far as we know) a massive problem with hidden asbestos, their experiences with NPS have been, shall we say, troubling.

Though I knew that the council had outsourced its own staff to NPS on the normal TUPE transfer arrangement quite a few years ago, I did not realise until NT and MDJ started ferreting around that the council had a share in NPS. There are a helluva lot of questions to be answered!
I second uncanny's comment with the added suggestion that the range of any inquiry should be widened to take in the role of NPS in major school works and expansions across the borough. Though other schools don't have (as far as we know) a massive problem with hidden asbestos, their experiences with NPS have been, shall we say, troubling. Though I knew that the council had outsourced its own staff to NPS on the normal TUPE transfer arrangement quite a few years ago, I did not realise until NT and MDJ started ferreting around that the council had a share in NPS. There are a helluva lot of questions to be answered! Helen, Walthamstow
  • Score: 0

10:54am Fri 23 Nov 12

UKIP-local says...

I do not know what sort of asbestos this was but it is known that most of the asbestos used over the years is not the dangerous material the contractors claim.

Why is it we read so many reports of over spending and poor controls at this Walthamstow council.

The way they behave you would think they were a division of the EU!
I do not know what sort of asbestos this was but it is known that most of the asbestos used over the years is not the dangerous material the contractors claim. Why is it we read so many reports of over spending and poor controls at this Walthamstow council. The way they behave you would think they were a division of the EU! UKIP-local
  • Score: 0

11:54am Fri 23 Nov 12

Helen, Walthamstow says...

As you say, UKIP-local, you don't know what sort of asbestos this is/was. What was put in "most" buildings wasn't put in all.

The council has an obligation to make public what materials were found in the building.
As you say, UKIP-local, you don't know what sort of asbestos this is/was. What was put in "most" buildings wasn't put in all. The council has an obligation to make public what materials were found in the building. Helen, Walthamstow
  • Score: 0

12:25pm Fri 23 Nov 12

Antonk says...

UK-IP, you wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the asbestos if you had kids at the school - let's not forget that children and staff were present when it was disturbed.

And just how competitve can a tender process be when councillors are on the board of directors?

Surely it's not just about cost, merit, trust and competence have to be factored in. Given NPS London Ltd track record they shouldn't even be considered at tender stage.

The whole thing stinks!
UK-IP, you wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the asbestos if you had kids at the school - let's not forget that children and staff were present when it was disturbed. And just how competitve can a tender process be when councillors are on the board of directors? Surely it's not just about cost, merit, trust and competence have to be factored in. Given NPS London Ltd track record they shouldn't even be considered at tender stage. The whole thing stinks! Antonk
  • Score: 0

2:44pm Fri 23 Nov 12

merlin70 says...

Obviously staff at the school over the years have their worries about exposure, the Head etc have done brilliantly to get this resolved and parents at a recent meeting were not fully satisfied with the lack if clarity.

Apparently the kids will be in the school by february 2013 but that remains to be seen. currently displaced and being bussed to school at a cost of £8000 per week is not acceptable.

All parents want answers, and the involvement of senior officials is worrying. More to be told methinks.
Obviously staff at the school over the years have their worries about exposure, the Head etc have done brilliantly to get this resolved and parents at a recent meeting were not fully satisfied with the lack if clarity. Apparently the kids will be in the school by february 2013 but that remains to be seen. currently displaced and being bussed to school at a cost of £8000 per week is not acceptable. All parents want answers, and the involvement of senior officials is worrying. More to be told methinks. merlin70
  • Score: 0

6:53pm Fri 23 Nov 12

mdj says...

Quite apart from the monumental incompetence and negligence that lie behind this story, it's also a motorway pile-up of every issue to do with governance, scrutiny and conflict of interest in local government
NPS London acts as an arm's length provider of technical services to this and other councils. Without raising any issues of possible personal gain, the theory immediately falls apart when the council has an issue with the company's performance, as here. Those buses and surveys will have to be paid for by someone, as will any possible fines from the HSE.
And what if the builders' staff sue? (or teachers, or parents) WHO will they sue?

Readers may recall the £5 million Ashcam Homes fiasco.

In that story, failings by the company that led to financial exposure were simply picked up and paid for by the Council. What should have happened was that the council should have sued the negligent directors of Ascham for the shortfall, or failing that their legal advisers
.But this was not a normal sub-contractor: half the board were councillors of this borough, for what seemed no doubt like good reasons of scrutiny at the outset. But any pursuit of fault is crippled at the outset, for obvious reasons. As a result, any intended separation is obviously a fiction.
In this case, is Cllr Rusling going to recommend that he be sued in his capacity of director of NPS London if, as seems all too likely, this mess results in cost to the borough? Was he advised what a directors' responsibilities are before he took up the post?
This is the second time this year he has found himself - blamelessly, I feel - walking into an organisational quagmire designed and facilitated by highly-paid officials of this borough.Somehow now he has to try and defend the Council's position.

Also, what possible tendering process can have been carried out before awarding this role to a complex conglomerate designed to ring-fence certain functions of public office-holders? By definition no other bidder could have been considered. How does that work in law? A director's duties are towards the shareholders.

At what point in any issue between LBWF and NPS London does our Chief Exec decide that he has changed hats, and reaches for a different pile of headed stationery?
Is there a card-clock on his and Mr Rusling's desks, and a billing clerk to allocate their hours?

It seems incredible that highly-paid public servants, no doubt implementing complex rules laid down by Whitehall, should have come up with this dog's breakfast.

We eagerly await an on-the-record explanation by Messrs Esom and Rusling of how this all works.
Quite apart from the monumental incompetence and negligence that lie behind this story, it's also a motorway pile-up of every issue to do with governance, scrutiny and conflict of interest in local government NPS London acts as an arm's length provider of technical services to this and other councils. Without raising any issues of possible personal gain, the theory immediately falls apart when the council has an issue with the company's performance, as here. Those buses and surveys will have to be paid for by someone, as will any possible fines from the HSE. And what if the builders' staff sue? (or teachers, or parents) WHO will they sue? Readers may recall the £5 million Ashcam Homes fiasco. In that story, failings by the company that led to financial exposure were simply picked up and paid for by the Council. What should have happened was that the council should have sued the negligent directors of Ascham for the shortfall, or failing that their legal advisers .But this was not a normal sub-contractor: half the board were councillors of this borough, for what seemed no doubt like good reasons of scrutiny at the outset. But any pursuit of fault is crippled at the outset, for obvious reasons. As a result, any intended separation is obviously a fiction. In this case, is Cllr Rusling going to recommend that he be sued in his capacity of director of NPS London if, as seems all too likely, this mess results in cost to the borough? Was he advised what a directors' responsibilities are before he took up the post? This is the second time this year he has found himself - blamelessly, I feel - walking into an organisational quagmire designed and facilitated by highly-paid officials of this borough.Somehow now he has to try and defend the Council's position. Also, what possible tendering process can have been carried out before awarding this role to a complex conglomerate designed to ring-fence certain functions of public office-holders? By definition no other bidder could have been considered. How does that work in law? A director's duties are towards the shareholders. At what point in any issue between LBWF and NPS London does our Chief Exec decide that he has changed hats, and reaches for a different pile of headed stationery? Is there a card-clock on his and Mr Rusling's desks, and a billing clerk to allocate their hours? It seems incredible that highly-paid public servants, no doubt implementing complex rules laid down by Whitehall, should have come up with this dog's breakfast. We eagerly await an on-the-record explanation by Messrs Esom and Rusling of how this all works. mdj
  • Score: 0

7:53am Sat 24 Nov 12

Antonk says...

I'd like to know how these NPS and LBWF interact and more importantly what financial obligations and rewards the Directors are entitled to, are they collecting Directors fees and dividends?

Exactly how are the Directors appointed? Councillor's Christmas raffle?

The financial obligations of course lie at the feet of the tax payer. Tax payers have been affected and will ultimately foot the bill.

As a tax payer I'd like to see a full and independant public enquiry into this debacle so that councillors and council officers are held accountable, only then will we start to see change.
I'd like to know how these NPS and LBWF interact and more importantly what financial obligations and rewards the Directors are entitled to, are they collecting Directors fees and dividends? Exactly how are the Directors appointed? Councillor's Christmas raffle? The financial obligations of course lie at the feet of the tax payer. Tax payers have been affected and will ultimately foot the bill. As a tax payer I'd like to see a full and independant public enquiry into this debacle so that councillors and council officers are held accountable, only then will we start to see change. Antonk
  • Score: 0

10:16am Tue 27 Nov 12

Novaenvironmental says...

I don't know what GBNS did for £52,425, but being the director of an independent asbestos company, we would of only charged a few thousand to survey the school.
I'm against all these companies who tell the client asbestos is dangerous and needs to be removed. Asbestos can be easily managed to contain the fibres which in turn will pose a very little risk.
The HSE only require that the duty holder manages the asbestos, not remove it.

I'm currently building a website to inform the public with regards to asbestos and how to manage it correctly without the need of expensive removal.

Http://asbestos-surv
eys.co.uk

Also follow me on twitter for upto date asbestos news and advice.
@nova_asbestosuk
I don't know what GBNS did for £52,425, but being the director of an independent asbestos company, we would of only charged a few thousand to survey the school. I'm against all these companies who tell the client asbestos is dangerous and needs to be removed. Asbestos can be easily managed to contain the fibres which in turn will pose a very little risk. The HSE only require that the duty holder manages the asbestos, not remove it. I'm currently building a website to inform the public with regards to asbestos and how to manage it correctly without the need of expensive removal. Http://asbestos-surv eys.co.uk Also follow me on twitter for upto date asbestos news and advice. @nova_asbestosuk Novaenvironmental
  • Score: 0

1:30pm Tue 27 Nov 12

Antonk says...

Novaenvironmental wrote:
I don't know what GBNS did for £52,425, but being the director of an independent asbestos company, we would of only charged a few thousand to survey the school.
I'm against all these companies who tell the client asbestos is dangerous and needs to be removed. Asbestos can be easily managed to contain the fibres which in turn will pose a very little risk.
The HSE only require that the duty holder manages the asbestos, not remove it.

I'm currently building a website to inform the public with regards to asbestos and how to manage it correctly without the need of expensive removal.

Http://asbestos-surv

eys.co.uk

Also follow me on twitter for upto date asbestos news and advice.
@nova_asbestosuk
Have you ever been invited to tender for work by LBWF?
I only ask since we have previously been informed by them that asbestos specialists are extremely rare, hence the reason for delays (not only schools but Lloyd Park too)
[quote][p][bold]Novaenvironmental[/bold] wrote: I don't know what GBNS did for £52,425, but being the director of an independent asbestos company, we would of only charged a few thousand to survey the school. I'm against all these companies who tell the client asbestos is dangerous and needs to be removed. Asbestos can be easily managed to contain the fibres which in turn will pose a very little risk. The HSE only require that the duty holder manages the asbestos, not remove it. I'm currently building a website to inform the public with regards to asbestos and how to manage it correctly without the need of expensive removal. Http://asbestos-surv eys.co.uk Also follow me on twitter for upto date asbestos news and advice. @nova_asbestosuk[/p][/quote]Have you ever been invited to tender for work by LBWF? I only ask since we have previously been informed by them that asbestos specialists are extremely rare, hence the reason for delays (not only schools but Lloyd Park too) Antonk
  • Score: 0

4:53pm Tue 27 Nov 12

mdj says...

8 in the local Yellow Pages, many more online.
It's a good rule to believe nothing you are told by LBWF until you can confirm it independently.
They will presumably have a list of approved contractors:LBWF may of course have special requirements for their contractors.
8 in the local Yellow Pages, many more online. It's a good rule to believe nothing you are told by LBWF until you can confirm it independently. They will presumably have a list of approved contractors:LBWF may of course have special requirements for their contractors. mdj
  • Score: 0

8:53pm Tue 27 Nov 12

Antonk says...

mdj wrote:
8 in the local Yellow Pages, many more online.
It's a good rule to believe nothing you are told by LBWF until you can confirm it independently.
They will presumably have a list of approved contractors:LBWF may of course have special requirements for their contractors.
440 nationwide, with over 150 in the South East alone.

BTW - A good proportion of the asbestos found at the school was classified "High Risk", this is a documented fact.
[quote][p][bold]mdj[/bold] wrote: 8 in the local Yellow Pages, many more online. It's a good rule to believe nothing you are told by LBWF until you can confirm it independently. They will presumably have a list of approved contractors:LBWF may of course have special requirements for their contractors.[/p][/quote]440 nationwide, with over 150 in the South East alone. BTW - A good proportion of the asbestos found at the school was classified "High Risk", this is a documented fact. Antonk
  • Score: 0

8:55pm Tue 27 Nov 12

Antonk says...

Antonk wrote:
mdj wrote:
8 in the local Yellow Pages, many more online.
It's a good rule to believe nothing you are told by LBWF until you can confirm it independently.
They will presumably have a list of approved contractors:LBWF may of course have special requirements for their contractors.
440 nationwide, with over 150 in the South East alone.

BTW - A good proportion of the asbestos found at the school was classified "High Risk", this is a documented fact.
"They will presumably have a list of approved contractors:LBWF may of course have special requirements for their contractors."

Yes, that their councillors are on the board of Directors!
[quote][p][bold]Antonk[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]mdj[/bold] wrote: 8 in the local Yellow Pages, many more online. It's a good rule to believe nothing you are told by LBWF until you can confirm it independently. They will presumably have a list of approved contractors:LBWF may of course have special requirements for their contractors.[/p][/quote]440 nationwide, with over 150 in the South East alone. BTW - A good proportion of the asbestos found at the school was classified "High Risk", this is a documented fact.[/p][/quote]"They will presumably have a list of approved contractors:LBWF may of course have special requirements for their contractors." Yes, that their councillors are on the board of Directors! Antonk
  • Score: 0

11:57am Wed 28 Nov 12

ruby newbie says...

WHAT NO CORNBEEFER?
WHAT NO CORNBEEFER? ruby newbie
  • Score: 0

5:02pm Wed 28 Nov 12

Alan_1976 says...

ruby newbie wrote:
WHAT NO CORNBEEFER?
Yawn....
[quote][p][bold]ruby newbie[/bold] wrote: WHAT NO CORNBEEFER?[/p][/quote]Yawn.... Alan_1976
  • Score: 0

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