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‘We Are Independent’, says Building Control Inspector after Links Emerge with New Conservative Business Group

he NHBC is the country’s largest building control inspector says it is ” independent of Government and the construction industry”. But its corporate affairs team has strong links to the Conservative Party

Photo: Holmes Garden Photos/Alamy

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The National House Building Council (NHBC) has defended its independence from the Government, despite an employee founding a business group that has the Deputy Prime Minister as an honorary chair. 

The Conservative Friends of Business (CFB) group was launched in May this year at the Tory party’s campaign headquarters.

The event was hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt gave a keynote speech. The group positions itself as a “platform for business-related discussion, policy ideas and views” and the launch was attended by other ministers, MPs and dozens of other business owners.

CFB is the trading name of Conservative Business Network Ltd. According to Companies House, the firm was incorporated in May last year, It lists two people as directors and as those with significant control; Lewis Sidnick and Sean Worth.

On the CFB website, Mr Sidnick’s profile describes him as someone with “a senior role in the City in the finance sector”. It highlights his work for the Conservative {arty in both Westminster and Brussels and that he ran the commercial operations for news website Conservative Home.

It does not mention that he is also the NHBC’s Director of Corporate Affairs.

On a similar note, Mr Worth is described as “a businessman with a long history of working with the Conservative party”, but what it fails to mention is that he is also the co-founder of lobbying firm WPI Strategy, which is the trading name of Westminster Policy Partners Ltd.

At the same time, the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists lists the NHBC as a client of Westminster Policy Partners Ltd.

WPI was set up in January 2013 but under the guidance for small companies it has been exempt from submitting its full accounts since it was founded. Its financial statement for the period ending January last year showed it had net assets of around £721,000.

For his part, Mr Worth told the Byline Times: “Conservative Friends of Business is an independent entity, which I help run in a personal capacity and separately from any other roles I have.”


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“We are Independent”

The NHBC is the country’s largest building control inspector, which means it provides builders with completion certificates certifying that their project has complied with regulations. 

Its website clearly states that “we are independent of Government and the construction industry”. But Mr Sidnick is not the only member of the company’s four-strong corporate affairs team that has links to the Tory party.

Luke Archer, Government and Policy Advisor, has worked for three Conservative MPs. Another Government and Policy Advisor, Ceara Roopchand, spent more than a year in policy and communications at the New Schools Network.

The network was set up by Rachel Wolf, a former campaign adviser to Boris Johnson’s mayoral campaign, who has also spent time advising Michael Gove during his time as Shadow Children’s Secretary.

The NHBC said it “would be surprising if people working in the field of governmental affairs did not have a keen personal interest in politics as distinct from their work”. The firm also revealed its employees are required to disclose personal connections like the one identified by the Byline Times in a register of interests.

The register does not appear to be publicly available within its latest accounts for the period ending March 2022, but the company’s financials show it made a post-tax profit of £60.3m.

The NHBC told the Byline Times that it’s role “to raise standards in housebuilding and protect homeowners: in order to help achieve this, we liaise with politicians from all parties to help them gain in-depth understanding of the issues shaping the current house building landscape”.

A spokesperson added: “In his role as Director of Corporate Affairs, Mr Sidnick is in contact with representatives of both government and opposition.

“Like many companies, NHBC uses the services of a number of external advisors, on occasion, to assist us in our work to raise awareness of topics in the housing sector. This is completely normal practice.

“NHBC is independent of Government and the construction industry. We are a company limited by guarantee with no shareholders. The profits we generate are reinvested in the business to support our core purpose: to build confidence in the construction quality of new homes.”


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Lessons to be Learned

Set up in 1936, it’s not the first time the NHBC’s relationship with the Government and industry has come into question.

During the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, a key question for NHBC witnesses was why the firm continued to sign off cladding systems on tall buildings with combustible Kingspan K15 insulation, even after it was warned they did not comply with the rules. 

The answer given by the witnesses, as reported by Inside Housing magazine, was that a certificate written by the British Board of Agrément (BBA), a respected third-party certifier of construction products.

This certificate said K15 could be used in accordance with the passage in building guidance which demanded limited combustibility and could also be used in a range of systems providing the builder sought advice from Kingspan as to compliance. 

The inquiry had already heard that this certificate was deeply flawed and a consequence of “very basic failures of due diligence” on the part of the BBA. But NHBC witnesses said they were entitled to rely on it.

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The Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people in June 2017, with the ACM cladding panels identified by the inquiry as the “primary cause” of the rapid spread of the fire. 

The NHBC played no direct role in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment. But as the country’s largest building control inspector and warranty provider, its views on the use of combustible materials were important in the years before the fire. 

In its written closing submissions to phase two of the inquiry, the NHBC accepted that “it should not have placed the level of reliance on the Kingspan K15 BBA certificates”.

It continued: “The evidence shows that there was an over reliance throughout the industry upon these as directed and endorsed by government. The potential for an error within a certificate and the consequences of this should have been far clearer to the whole industry, including NHBC.”

In his foreword to the NHBC’s latest accounts, the firm’s chair Alan Rubenstein said: “We are committed to ensuring that the important lessons are learned from the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire so that the housebuilding sector can deliver safer homes for the future.”

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