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Blacklist: firms’ invoices revealed

Skanska and Sir Robert McAlpine were both invoiced more than £25,000 by blacklist firm during 2008

Skanska and Sir Robert McAlpine were invoiced for by far the largest amounts by a company which ran a blacklist of construction workers, Construction News can reveal.

A list of the organisation’s invoices for last year, published today by Construction News, showed with Skanska having been invoiced £28,122 and Sir Robert McAlpine sent a bill for more than £26,840.

Construction News has established, however, that many of those who were invoiced for the largest amounts are no longer under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which says it is now only looking into 17 contractors over the “covert” database.

The ICO has refused to disclose which of the 46 firms listed in March after the Consulting Association raid were now being issued with enforcement notices, but it urged commissioner Richard Thomas to use the “strongest powers available” against them.

The figures – for January through to 12 December – are on top of the association’s annual £3,000 subscription fee.

But a Skanska spokeswoman confirmed to Construction News that, despite being the top spender with the association for 2008, it expected no further action against it.

She said: “The commissioner has written to Skanska to inform us that they have decided not to take any enforcement action against us.”

Sir Robert McAlpine has also claimed to be in the clear of any potential proceedings by the ICO.

A spokesman said: “Sir Robert McAlpine shared all the costs with the Information Commissioner who confirmed in a letter that no enforcement action would be taken.”

Other contractors to rack up big bills with the association last year included Balfour Beatty, Laing O’Rourke and Cleveland Bridge.

The invoices show Cleveland Bridge was billed for a total of £5,880, but a spokesman also ruled them out of any legal action.

He said: “Clearly this is a matter for the ICO but our understanding is that subsequent investigations will not concern CBUK.”

Balfour Beatty and its subsidiaries were invoiced for about £9,000 of searches throughout 2008.

A spokeswoman said: “Balfour Beatty does not condone the use of ‘black lists’ in any circumstances and has taken steps to ensure that none of our companies use such services.

“We are of course co-operating fully with the Information Commissioner in his investigation, and in addressing any concerns that he may have.”

Laing O’Rourke was invoiced for £3,710, and its building services arm Crown House Technologies for almost £2,480, for accessing the list in 2008. The group, however, refused to comment on the matter.

With each search of the list costing £2.20, the figures appear to indicate that some companies undertook thousands of searches of the database.

The ICO said that, between April 2006 and February 2009, construction firms had paid the organisation almost £480,000.

It said it had now sent preliminary enforcement notices to the 17 firms still under investigation. It refused to confirm which contractors could face formal action until each firm had time to respond.

Details of the case were aired at Knutsford Crown Court last week, where Consulting Association administrator Ian Kerr was fined £5,000 for his role in controlling the blacklist and, in doing so, breaching the Data Protection Act.

The sentence has sparked anger from lobbyists, with construction union Ucatt having claimed he deserved “the maximum fine possible”.

Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie said: “He ruined people’s lives.”

Ucatt members held a demonstration outside the court last Thursday.

George Guy, regional secretary for the North West region, whose members staged the protest outside the court, said: “A large number of Ucatt’s activists in the North West were blacklisted by Ian Kerr – they want justice.

“Everyone involved in the blacklisting must be brought to book.”

Knowledge of the database – which included the details of 3,213 workers – emerged in March when the offices of the Consulting Association, in Droitwich, West Midlands, were raided by the ICO. It is understood the list may have been running for more than 15 years.

The database was believed to have been used by firms to avoid employing troublesome workers, including many union members and others who had raised health and safety concerns. Names were accompanied by notes such as “poor timekeeper, will cause trouble” and “Irish ex-army bad egg”.

The Government is now working on laws to ban the use of blacklists which prevent trade unionists from getting work.

What blacklist firm invoiced contractors (£)

Figures for financial year 2008/09 (Q4 for 2007/08)

Amec/Amec industrial division2525  50
Morgan Est338813062313
Spie Matthew Hall 2525 50
Morgan Ashurst25252525100
Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering187189235165777
Balfour Beatty Scottish and Southern2525 2575
Balfour Kilpatrick1,8851,9292,0311,3097,154
Cleveland Bridge3853,5845921,3205,881
Crown House Technologies/Crown House8985575324912,477
Diamond/Diamond M&E25252525100
Haden Young491992525640
HBG Construction/Bam Construction25252525100
Sir R McAlpine5,2185,95112,8392,83426,842
NG Bailey9118038035683,084
Edmund Nuttall/Bam Nuttall183156143154636
B Beatty Infrastructure/Balfour Beatty Infra Ser.117577057301
Shepherd Engineering25252525100
Skanska Construction7,9607,5776,8385,74928,123
Whessoe2525  50
SIAS Building Services 642525114
Balfour Beatty  25 25

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