BOTH of the contractors shortlisted for the Manchester Town Hall renovations are drowning in controversy, the Liberal Democrats have dramatically uncovered, with one, in particular, refusing to pay to replace Grenfell-style cladding in the city.
Laing O’Rourke and Lendlease are the two contractors left in the running for what will be a huge £330m renovation of Manchester's Town Hall. But both companies have a mega-legacy of shocking legal, ethical and worker safety controversy.
Lendlease, which reported pre-tax profits of $1.2bn last year, has a phenomenal trail of court cases and questionable practices that span decades.
In 2007, investigators found Lendlease responsible for major safety errorsthat led to the death of two firefighters and 100 injured civilians at the Deutsche Bank Tower in New York City, which it was contracted to demolish. Lendlease avoided criminal charges by signing up to a “non-prosecution agreement” in which it created $5m memorial funds for the dead men’s families. Lendlease “neither admits nor denies any criminal or civil liability” and its lawyers carry on fighting claims for damages from other surviving firefighters.
In 2007, Lendlease was embroiled in a six-year bribery scandal after it paid just £50m for a 22-acre site of central London real estate, which didn’t even cover the £65.4m the council had spent on removing the Heygate residents and promoting the development.
Residents were finally removed by bailiffs in November 2013, following half a decade of protests, legal challenges, planning hearings and compulsory purchase orders of resisting leaseholders.
The Southwark council leader later faced investigation for failing to declare Olympics opening ceremony tickets worth £1,600 in exchange for overlooking the real cost of council-owned land.
Other 'gifts' from Lendlease included trips to a property fair in the South of France as well as proms tickets, dinners. Councillors and council officers involved in the scandal have since become either Lendlease employees or private consultants working with them and their partners.
Lendlease was back in court again in 2015 to settle allegations from a whistleblower that subcontractors were underpaying workers and falsely “certifying compliance on weekly certified payrolls."
Across the pond, there were reports of a US Labor Department investigation after employees working on the construction of the Trump International Hotel in Washington complained they were being paid below legal rates.
In 2016, Lendlease made an undisclosed settlement with former blacklisted workers after a case in the High Court revealed it as one of the major building companies involved in blacklisting trade union workers in the UK.
In December 2016, a former health and safety manager at Lendlease's Barangaroo site in Australia revealed to the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) that Lendlease routinely covers up safety issues and fails to report incidents at Barangaroo. He alleged a culture of intimidation and bullying “driven from the very top of that project” down to supervisors who were “on many, many occasions instructed and bullied into submission, not to tell regulators, not to tell anyone else.”
In July 2017, after a long court case, Lendlease was ordered to pay £14.8m after multiple plate glass windows fell from 125 Broad Street in the London, narrowly avoiding people below. Lendlease spent several years fighting the case to avoid responsibility.
Back in Manchester, Lendlease is currently caught up in a Grenfell-style cladding row. Green Quarter residents are being asked to fork out £3m by the building's new freeholders to replace unsafe cladding Lendlease used in their two tower blocks.
After selling the building freehold to an investment firm, Pemberstone, in 2015, Lendlease is now being taken to court in a bid to force them to pay £3m cladding bill.
Flat owners, many of whom bought their homes through the Help to Buy scheme, have turned to crowdfunding to raise money for legal advice.
The other company in play for the mega £330m job is Laing O'Rourke, which is only marginally less offensive that Lendlease.
Laing O'Rourke and its acquisition Crown House in 2004 were revealed as subscribers to the UK's Consulting Association, exposed in 2009 for operating an illegal construction industry blacklist.
It went on to become one of eight businesses involved in the 2014 launch of the Construction Workers Compensation Scheme, slammed as a "PR stunt" by the GMB union, and "an act of bad faith" by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.
In October 2016, Laing O'Rourke confessed that the blacklist was unlawful and apologised.
But just ten months ago, Unite launched fresh High Court proceedings against twelve major contractors, including Laing.
Final bid submissions from both firms are set for 19 October, with the council set to make a decision in November.
Unearthing the shocking news, Liberal Democrat Opposition Leader, John Leech said:
"How can we possibly even consider awarding a contract worth more than a quarter of a billion pounds to a firm that has treated Manchester residents so appallingly?
"Under absolutely no circumstances should Lendlease even be considered for this contract, or any council contract again, until they have paid the £3m Green Quarter cladding bill that is crippling local people.
”We should, and must, be demanding much higher standards than this for Manchester residents."