The man fined £5,000 for holding a blacklisting database in 2009 has revealed Sir Robert McAlpine paid that and other costs, and said that he was the wrong person to prosecute.
Ian Kerr, the former owner of The Consulting Association – which was shut down after an Information Commissioners Office raid in 2009 – spoke for almost three and a half hours in front of the Scottish Affairs Committee on blacklisting yesterday, according NCE sister publication Construction News.
After Mr Kerr gave his evidence, Sir Robert McApline confirmed to CN that it had paid towards costs, as it felt “he should not suffer the penalty alone”.
In a statement, the contractor said: “When The Consulting Association was closed and the ICO imposed a fine upon Mr Ian Kerr in 2009, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd felt it was fair for those companies who had been able to draw on services of The Consulting Association to provide some final support.
“Following the ICO’s fine in 2009, Mr Kerr incurred some additional legal costs as a result of winding up the business.
“These payments were made as supplements to the initial payment in 2009 and simply represent the belief of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd that Mr Kerr should not suffer the penalty alone when it was the construction companies that had used his services.”
Mr Kerr had also alleged that the contractor had paid towards the establishment of TCA, a claim Sir Robert McAlpine said it would be investigating as it was “apparent that The Consulting Association was established by a large group of construction companies and that Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd was not solely responsible for the establishment or the funding of The Consulting Association”.
Asked about his role in vetting Irish workers on MoD contracts, Mr Kerr asked whether he was allowed to answer the question in private. He was also asked to submit a full list of names involved in TCA and told he may be asked to give further evidence at a later date.
Mr Kerr also said that Crossrail was discussed at TCA meetings. His revelation comes days after shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna met with Crossrail to discuss blacklisting claims following his parliamentary questions on whether blacklisting had been used on the £14.8bn scheme.
Mr Kerr said: “There was a lot of discussion at meetings [of the Consulting Association] about Crossrail because there was a perception that it was going to be a problematic contract.”
A Crossrail spokesperson said: “An important role for Crossrail is to raise industry standards across a range of issues including fair payment, ethical sourcing and SME opportunities. Crossrail requires all companies working on the project to comply with the law, including the prohibition on blacklisting.”
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna MP said:
“Ian Kerr confirmed in his written evidence published today that blacklisting was practiced by construction firms working on a large number of high profile public contracts, including the Olympics, Jubilee Line and the construction of government offices.
“There are very serious questions to answer for the firms involved as well as government departments and agencies.
“Additionally, new evidence today raises huge concerns about the scale and nature of blacklisting, including in relation to Irish nationals working on Ministry of Defence sites and a new blacklist of hundreds of environmental activists which was not previously known to have existed.
“I will continue to press ministers on these matters while seeking clear assurances that blacklisting is not currently in operation on public contracts such as Crossrail.”
The former primary school teacher also said he decided on occasion not to pass information to certain companies which took too hard a line on potential employees using the information they were provided with.
Mr Kerr denied the information he held was “a blacklist”, saying that being named on the database compiled by the Consulting Association “did not mean that an individual would automatically be denied employment”.
He said: “The database was not a ‘blacklist’. I would never have taken the job on if I had been required to run a system based just on a list of names of people not to be employed.”
However he said that “certain companies” were perceived as being harsher than others when it came to choosing not to employ people based on partial information.
Mr Kerr said that there were times when if he received 20 names and there was no information on 19, but partial information on one, he often chose not to provide certain companies with those details as he believed they were more “hardnosed” about how they used the information.
Mr Kerr cited Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty and Skanska as those particular companies.
A Balfour Beatty spokesperson said: “Mr Kerr raised a number of issues before the Scottish Affairs Select Committee yesterday, some of which are new to us. We are looking into these issues and will give our comprehensive response to the Committee when asked to do so.”
A Skanska spokeswoman said: “When the matter of the Consulting Association was brought to our attention, we cooperated fully with the investigation carried out by the UK Information Commissioner, which subsequently confirmed to us that no enforcement action need be taken against Skanska.
“The use of blacklists is against the values and behaviours of our company. We recognise and support employees’ rights to form or join trade unions and we take a proactive approach to building good relationships with the unions.While the select committee continues its investigation, we feel it is not appropriate to comment further.”
Files were also held on non-construction workers, including up to 200 on environmental activists, and individuals from particular construction sectors such as M&E.
Construction union UCATT renewed its call for a public inquiry into the blacklisting scandal after Mr Kerr’s evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.
UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “When UCATT gave evidence to the select committee we revealed that taxpayers money which should have been spent on building the Olympics was spent on blacklisting. Ian Kerr has revealed more major companies involved in Olympic blacklisting.”
Mr Murphy added: “Ucatt has always warned that the Consulting Association was not the only blacklist in existence and Kerr has confirmed that is the case. This is why we need effective measures to outlaw blacklisting and for blacklisting to become a criminal offence.”
Mr Kerr admitted that some of the descriptions of individuals held on TCA’s database, read out to him by MPs on the select committee, 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” were not justifiable “on balance”.
However Mr Kerr said he believed that databases of information were still being held on workers in the construction company due to the “transient” nature of the industry.
He said he was “truly sorry if we had ruined someone’s life” but that those people on the database were in a position to seek employment from companies who did not use the database.
The evidence was the first time Mr Kerr had spoken about the subject in public.
Mr Kerr revealed details of his salary, which was initially £20,000 and had risen to £47,500 in 2009, and said he also received life, car and health insurance, as well as an annual bonus of half his pay for December.
Mr Kerr recounted how he had “smashed up” a computer hard drive and burned files after the ICO raid in 2009, after which it took away material, made copies of information and sent them back to him following its raid.
He said he had done this to avoid being accused of carrying on his work after he had signed a document that stated he would cease its activities.
“If I didn’t do something about it, someone would have come around and said you are still [compiling information] so I destroyed it,” he said.
TCA employed four people, three of whom, including Mr Kerr’s wife, were employed part-time.
Requests for information to TCA by contractors were made through one, or in the case of larger organisations, two contacts within those companies who would either fax or phone through request, Mr Kerr said.
He said that in an average year there would be between 38,000 and 40,000 names referred by member companies to TCA for checking.
Mr Kerr said requests were responded to by phone, and faxes were shredded after they were received.