Grenfell building manager denies being ‘bully’

A council manager has denied being a “bully” after the building surveyor overseeing the Grenfell Tower revamp complained his pleas for extra help to deal with his heavy workload were ignored by bosses.

John Allen, the building control manager at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea during the tower’s refurbishment, told the inquiry into the blaze he “was as supportive as I could possibly be” to staff.

His evidence came after surveyor John Hoban told the inquiry last week he was juggling more than 100 separate projects and felt “unable to say no” to Mr Allen because of a “culture within the department”.

Mr Hoban said he was also struggling with health complaints and was effectively ignored in 2015 when he asked for extra help, adding: “I felt I was in a position that I couldn’t refuse … I felt I was unable to say ‘no’ to him.”

But Mr Allen on Monday rejected the claims and called the local authority an “excellent employer”.

He told the inquiry: “They had personnel policies, grievance, whistleblowing, it was a very small department.

“John Hoban … was free to go and talk as others were at any time.

“It was a good borough to work with, there were lots of opportunities to talk about it, we had monthly meetings with him, weekly meetings with him, it was never the case.

“I’m not a bully, never have been a bully with any staff.

“It’s about encouraging them for their own development and also to get the best out of them which is a reasonable thing for a manager to do.

“We spoke about health issues which I tried to help him with. I was as supportive as I could possibly be.”

John Hoban
John Hoban

Building control was responsible for signing off the refurbishment as completed in July 2016 but the council has already admitted the department made several key failings and has apologised to victims “unreservedly”.

The inquiry has heard that workloads at the department increased after “austerity measures” led to “substantial cuts” and a “substantial reduction in the number of employees”.

Between 2013 and 2017 the building control department lost 10 surveyors with a combined 230 years’ experience, hiring only one graduate during that time, according to Mr Hoban’s evidence.

But Mr Allen said in 2012 the department’s building regulations account made a £500,000 loss which “clearly isn’t sustainable” and said several staff opted for voluntary redundancy.

He said competition with the private market in building control meant that the amount of work coming into the local authority was reducing, adding: “We would manage the resources to match the work coming into the department.

“The work was reducing because of market forces.”

The inquiry continues.