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Firms distance themselves from data

Contractors Morgan Est and Bam Construct are among a host of contractors trying to distance themselves from the blacklisting scandal, with claims they were “non-active members” of the Consulting Association.

Both have now publicly ruled themselves out of any ICO legal proceedings, confirming to Construction News they had received letters from the commissioner giving them a “clean bill of health”.

In March, the ICO named more than 40 companies that were subscribers to the database, including Amec Construction, Balfour Beatty and Morgan Est.

It has now said enforcement action could be taken against as many as 17 of them.

But a spokesman for Bam Construct said the company had been ruled out of any potential action by the ICO. According to invoices from the Consulting Association, Bam Construct was last year invoiced only £25-per-quarter – understood to be a standard subscription payment.

He said that, although it had been listed as a subscriber, the company had “never paid for any information”.

The payment of the subscription fee, he added, had entitled the company to attend networking events, but that beyond that it was a “non-active member”.

“Bam Construct UK has a clean bill of health as far as blacklisting is concerned,” said the spokesman.

A spokeswoman for Morgan Est – which was billed £300 by the Consulting Association last year – also distanced the contractor from the database, described by the ICO as “a covert operation”.

She said: “We have been advised by the Information Commissioner’s Office that there will be no enforcement action against Morgan Est in relation to this matter.

“Subscription to The Consulting Association was inherited following the acquisition of a business in 2007 and has since been terminated.”

A list of invoices tabled by the Consulting Association names 27 firms which are understood to have been billed for their use of the database.

NG Bailey, which had bills sent to it of more than £3,080, said it had been helping the ICO with its investigation.

It added: “NG Bailey conducted a thorough internal investigation following the ICO’s allegations into the company’s alleged involvement with the Consulting Association, and will continue to cooperate fully with the ICO for the duration of their inquiry.”

Contractor Emcor was invoiced for more than £2,060 – the majority of which, though, came from searches at the start of the year.

Emcor said it was an “equal opportunities employer and it is our policy not to discriminate on any grounds”. It declined to comment further on the matter.

Many of the other firms listed were either unavailable for comment or refused to do so.

A spokeswoman for Kier – which was invoiced just £35-per-quarter over the year as well – said: “It is inappropriate for Kier to comment until the ICO publishes the results of its investigation.”

SIAS Building Services and Morgan Ashurst were unavailable for comment.

The ICO said it would now be looking at what further action could be taken against implicated companies.

Deputy information commissioner David Smith said: “Ian Kerr colluded with construction firms for many years, flouting the Data Protection Act and ignoring people’s privacy rights.

“Trading people’s personal details in this way is unlawful and we are determined to stamp out this type of activity.”

The association’s accounts showed that between 2004 and March 2009, when it ceased trading, almost £480,000 was paid to the organisation by various firms.

ANALYSIS: Invoice tables pose questions as well as answers

By Nick Whitten

The tables of invoices charged by the Consulting Association leave questions as well as answers.

The accounting for the invoices is extremely unclear. In some cases invoices appear to have been issued several times for the same amount, suggesting some firms may not have used the list as often as it appears.

Many people were billed for just £25.

One firm told Construction News the £25 was a quarterly minimum flat rate fee that had to be paid before any searches could be made.

Clearly many firms paid the rate but did not make any searches.

Many of the figures above the £25 are then divisible by £2.20 in their original form (some have been rounded up or down in our table on. £2.20, of course, was how much it cost to carry out each search.

The tables also appear to show that many bills were left outstanding, with the columns for “paid” and “outstanding” much barer than those relating to invoices issued.

Seventy-two per cent of the total £87,747 bill was invoiced to just three firms: Skanska, Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty.

The percentage rises to 83 per cent when adding in the firms with the next two biggest bills, Cleveland Bridge and Laing.

Of the 27 firms listed, 11 were never billed for more than £25.

Some appear to have dropped off the list towards the end of 2008, and the figure for the total sums invoiced certainly dropped off at the end of 2008. Was that because firms knew the ICO investigation was pending?

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