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Edinburgh schools fiasco: Report demands bricklaying shake-up

The industry has been urged to “re-examine its approach” to bricklaying by a report into the closure of 17 Edinburgh schools.

Faults were found in Oxgangs Primary School when a wall collapsed during Storm Gertrude in January 2016.

A further 16 schools closed by the end of April after building defects were found.

The study – led by John Cole – said the cause of the collapse of the Oxgangs school wall was “primarily determined” by the “competence of the bricklayer and the quality of the workmanship applied”.

Professor Cole said at a council hearing on Thursday that the “primary cause” for the wall collapse at Oxgangs was the “poor-quality construction by the bricklayer”.

The 17 schools were delivered in two phases: the first 13 through a design-and-build contract with a joint venture of Miller Construction and Amey Asset Services; the second four, including Oxgangs, under a design-and-build deal with Miller Construction.

The report said bricklayer VB Contracts was subcontracted by Miller Construction – now part of Galliford Try – for the four schools in phase two.

The report stated that the bricklayers “may not have had the requisite skills necessary” for installing the head restraints for the Oxgangs school wall, or “were not aware” of the implications in failing to do so.

It added: “The construction industry needs to re-examine its approach to the recruitment, training, appointment, means of remuneration, vetting, supervision and quality assurance of bricklayers.”

The report also called for the industry to review its approach to remuneration.

It said the current approach of paying bricklayers on the number of bricks laid instead of the number of hours worked should be changed to remove “any perverse incentive” for essential elements of walls to be omitted.

An Amey spokesperson said: “As a business we take pride in the services that we deliver and we are pleased that the report has recognised the quality of services that we provide across the school estate.

”We have supported and cooperated fully with the inquiry to date and can confirm that all remedial work has been completed.”

VB Contracts is now understood to be in liquidation.

A spokesperson for Galliford Try said the firm “welcomes the publication of Professor John Cole CBE’s final report”.

They added: “Throughout the inquiry we have co-operated fully and openly at all stages. It is a matter of record that Galliford Try acquired the historic liabilities for Miller Construction when it purchased the business in July 2014.”  



Readers' comments (6)

  • Rubbish to suggest that pricework was at fault. It is down to supervision from both the bricklaying contractor and main contractor. How many main contractors supervising the construction process actually know what they are doing. 50 years ago main contactor supervisors on site were ex tradesman, now they are a 22 year old straight from university.

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  • I have to agree with previous comment regarding the site supervision, it is a fact that no one with any experience is on these jobs today that is capable of supervision only capable of policing some nonsensical health and safety rulings dreamt up by the same university graduate who knows jack s--t about Construction bulking methods and good practice, the number of times I have seen this total ignorance and unsupervised trades carrying out work where the site manager/supervisor hasn't got clue and can't approach the trades for fear of displaying his total lack of knowledge,
    Get back to contractors !!! And ditch these so called contractors who call them selves management and project companies.

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  • Whilst I FULL support the comments above, even the greenest graduate can, or should be able to, read a drawing showing head restraints

    "The report stated that the bricklayers “may not have had the requisite skills necessary” for installing the head restraints for the Oxgangs school wall, or “were not aware” of the implications in failing to do so."

    This smacks of pure and simple lack of supervision by ANYONE.

    I'm a strong proponent of DfMA / Offsite, etc. but even that needs supervision, and I agree that contractors need to be more than just middle men / project managers.

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  • Hi
    Yes your right "they should be able" but the truth is they don't! or can't!! I can't recall when I last saw a clerk of the works on site! My experience is that no one inspects anything lately on works in progress or completion of a task, it's all about checking for correct types goggles ,gloves ,hard hats, boots, tool box talks which produce and contribute nothing to the workplace,the other truth is no one wants to assist in getting the job done, endless efforts are directed in pulling things to pieces regarding method and risk accessments by individuals who have never even done the job , they have just come from the classroom, I can give instances of identical task undertaken but two weeks apart and the individual who re read the second method statement which was identical to the first and held the job up for two days resulting in £ 2k concrete being wasted and dumped, because he had no idea of what a "bass broom" was.!
    Sorry but I have been in this industry all my working life(50yrs) and everyday we find another idiot from uni or college.
    Nothing is going to change I'm sure and it will only get worse when government and local authorities place contracts under framework and agreement with management contractors who don't even have a wheelbarrow and shovel on their asset register and employment status of most employees is not on Direct PAYE status
    It is the small subcontractors who end up getting ripped off by the like of these that contribute to training National ins that bear the brunt and be expected to even finance the main contractor on excessive payment terms whilst getting paid them selves on 14/28 days and on cost plus basis
    Get rid of frameworks!! Only bonafida contractors who employ on PAYE should be awarded all government local authority contracts should be allowed to tender,
    Then you might find proper training. Proper supervision. And value for money
    SORRY ABOUT THE RANT but I've seen it all!!!!

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  • Ridiculous to criticise the pricing structure of paying per brick because of defects.

    This is simply one contractor not complying with its contract by not installing head restraints - not building to the design is a problem that is encountered all the time in every other trade regardless of how people are paid.

    These are D&B contracts so one would query whether the main contractor even detailed the head restraints in the first place (as these type of items are routinely missed out by designers)?

    Changing the pricing structure of paying per brick is not going to stop contractors installing defective work: this is about management, quality assurance and design.

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  • And continue it will in the way that public works is awarded to these management companies.

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