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Sir Robert McAlpine consulted blacklist operator on Olympic Park

Sir Robert McAlpine’s non-executive director Cullum McAlpine has said the contractor used The Consulting Association when working on the Olympic Park, but that it was only asked about blacklisting by the Olympic Delivery Authority after the project was completed.

Mr McAlpine made the claim when giving evidence in front of the Scottish Affairs select committee investigating blacklisting in construction.

The Consulting Association was shut down following a raid in 2009, and its former owner Ian Kerr gave evidence in front of the committee last year where he revealed Sir Robert McAlpine had paid his legal costs, following the raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Mr McAlpine reiterated that Sir Robert McAlpine had “not operated or sought to operate a blacklist” but that it had consulted TCA about workers due to be employed on its groundworks for the Olympic Stadium.

He said that the contractor had consulted TCA about workers due to be employed on its groundworks contract in 2008, but that these workers had not shown up on TCA records and had been unaffected.

Mr McAlpine added that when main construction work got underway at the Olympic Stadium, the Information Commissioner’s Office had already raided TCA so the company was not used for vetting any further employees.

He said that the issue of blacklisting was not raised when the firm was negotiating its contract to build the Olympic Stadium, but that the issue had been raised subsequent to the completion of the Olympic Park.

Mr McAlpine’s evidence appears to corroborate evidence supplied in a letter from Tony Aikenhead, Sir Robert McAlpine’s director of operations, to the London Legacy Development Corporation chief executive Dennis Hone in November last year:

Mr Aikenhead said in the letter: “I specifically confirm that Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd was not involved in any blacklisting (by which I mean discrimination against individuals which would prevent them gaining employment) at the Olympic Stadium.

“I have questioned as many relevant staff members as possible and we could find no evidence of any discrimination on the part of Sir Robert McAlpine.

“We did not engage in blacklisting as part of the London 2012 contract. We neither sought nor received payment from the ODA (or any other employer) in respect of costs relating to the Consulting Association.”

Sir Robert McAlpine statement:

In his evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee, Mr Cullum McAlpine made it clear that Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd has never operated a blacklist, nor has it asked any other organisation to do so on its behalf.  The company is, and has always been, wholly committed to maintaining good relationships with its workforce and to responsible trade unionism.

Following an enquiry from the Olympic Delivery Authority towards the end of 2012, we undertook extensive investigations internally and are confident that, although we used The Consulting Association’s services were used [sic] during the early stages of the Olympic project, we did not refuse employment to anyone on the basis of information received.  No public monies or funding from the Olympic Delivery Authority was used to fund these searches.  Separately, the Home Office asked us to provide a list of potential employees on our Olympic sites.  

During a hearing late last year, committee members read out to Mr Kerr some of the descriptions of individuals held on TCA’s database, such as “being a bit of a sheep”, “thought to be co-habiting with a female councillor” and “wrote a letter in 1986 to the Crawley Observer”. Mr Kerr said the descriptions were not justifiable “on balance”.

Mr Kerr died in December last year, just weeks after giving evidence in public for the first time on his involvement with TCA.

Mr McAlpine told the committee the TCA’s list had only been meant to keep record of subersive, sabotage or illegal behaviour, and that it was unfortunate that other references such as political affiliation had not been deleted from files.

Mr McAlpine was asked about Mr Kerr’s evidence that the contractor had paid his legal costs, to which he admitted they had. He said he thought TCA would sue if Sir Robert McAlpine, or other TCA members, did not offer to help with costs.

Mr McAlpine is currently subject to a legal claim in which he is personally identified, and was advised by legal representation not to answer several questions during the evidence session.

However he admitted that Sir Robert McAlpine used TCA “a lot” in 2008, attributing this to the volume of work the contractor had at the time.

He said: “We were extremely busy at the time. It was the highest turnover we ever had.”

He added the contractor had a lot of projects and was recruiting a lot of workers and that it had a site raided by the UK Border Agency in 2006 or 2007, when a “number of people” were removed.

He said: “We didn’t want ourselves or our subcontractors employing people who shouldn’t have been in the UK.”

Mr McAlpine said the contractor sought lists of employees from its subcontractors, and that was “probably why the number [of checks] went up so much”.

Written evidence submitted by Cullum McAlpine

Thursday 17th January 2013
The statement below is intended to provide the Committee with background detail on the role of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd (SRM) in the Consulting Association (TCA) and the rationale behind the establishment of TCA by the construction and civil engineering industries. I was appointed as a Director of SRM on January 1st 1970; I am currently a non-executive Director.
The statement has been prepared on the basis of my recollection; I have not retained any documents which relate to my involvement with TCA, which ceased over ten years ago. I have read the transcript of Mr Ian Kerr’s evidence to the Committee as published on the Committee’s website.
At the time of the establishment of TCA, its founding members agreed that there should be a chairman. I was appointed by the founding members to ensure that TCA was set up on a secure and viable commercial and financial basis. After my initial term had finished all following chairmen were from a Human Resource background
Mr Kerr, (who was already involved informally when I was appointed) in his evidence to the Committee, stated that there were at least 14 founding members from major construction and civil engineering companies. SRM volunteered my services and, at the time of my appointment, it was intended that I should undertake the role for a period of three years. I was succeeded by four chairmen from different companies.
In his evidence, Mr Kerr was correct in stating that initial contributions of £20,000 were made by SRM. These funds were made available in the form of a loan and were to cover start-up activity. The loan was repaid once subscription income began to be received.
The main purpose of TCA was effectively to help the industry act as insurance against those who were intent on illegally disrupting the industry’s ability to perform contracts for their customers and also to act as a forum for progressing industrial relations.
Around the time that TCA was founded there were discussions in respect of the acquisition of the records of the Economic League. It was agreed that, if these records were used, they would need to be amended to remove any and all references which were not relevant to the purposes of TCA going forward. For the avoidance of doubt, I was not personally involved at any time with the Economic League.
As far as I and SRM were concerned, TCA was intended to protect SRM and the other construction companies against deliberately disruptive and unlawful behaviour on construction sites, and not to be a mechanism for discriminating against members of trade unions.
SRM has always viewed a constructive relationship with trade unions as fundamental to the effective and safe operation of its construction projects, and I had no reason to believe that our major competitors had any different view. Throughout the period that the Committee is investigating, health and safety issues have grown in significance and the relationship between trade unions and construction companies is essential to the industry’s success in improving its health and safety record.
At no time have I looked at the database which was eventually taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office; other participants may be able to be of assistance to the
Committee in that respect. I am therefore unable to offer any detailed comment on the way in which it was compiled and the references which it contained.
The finance meetings which I attended focused on material commercial and financial matters (including predictions of anticipated subscription income), and this may be what was in Mr Kerr’s mind when he referred to the Finance Committee in his oral evidence to you. We certainly at no point discussed individuals’ records.
The initial founding members were all large companies from the construction industry. In later years, and after my chairmanship had finished, TCA membership was extended to smaller companies and those participating in the mechanical and electrical sub-sector of the construction industry.
Whilst my links with, and knowledge of, TCA diminished over the years I have never had any knowledge of information being provided to or from TCA by the police, security forces or politicians. I can specifically confirm that SRM does not have a policy or procedure of passing generic information in respect of individuals to the police or security services.
I was made aware of the Information Commissioner’s visit after it had occurred but not of any discussions between Mr Kerr, Mr Cochrane and the ICO officers. SRM was not one of the companies which received an enforcement notice from the ICO. When TCA was dissolved SRM was of the view — and remains of the view — that the subscribing members as a whole should ensure that the outstanding financial liabilities of TCA should be discharged by its then existing membership. Those liabilities included TCA’s responsibility for Mr Kerr and his supporting staff and that is why SRM sanctioned the payments to which Mr Kerr has alluded in the closing sections of his testimony. Our view was based on humanitarian rather than commercial factors. Unfortunately that view was not shared by most of the subscribers in 2009.

This statement is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.
January 2013

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