Richard Howson condemns union’s ‘appalling’ letter-writing campaign targeting contractor’s public sector clients


Carillion has hit back at the GMB union’s “appalling” campaign against the contractor’s alleged links to blacklisting in the construction industry.

As Building revealed last week, pressure on Carillion over blacklisting has intensified after it emerged that the GMB union - which is handling preparations for a High Court claim on behalf of blacklisting victims against the contractor - has written to Birmingham council to ask it to reconsider its decision to make Carillion preferred bidder on the £1.45bn Energy Savers retrofit programme.

The letter, sent to Labour leader Sir Albert Bore, claimed Carillion was “at the heart” of blacklisting and “used its blacklist nearly 15,000 times over four years to deny workers employment”.

GMB has also written to the Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, and Hammersmith & Fulham councils in west London, where Carillion is bidding for a £455m facilities management contract across the three boroughs, warning the councils of Carillion’s alleged involvement in blacklisting.

The allegations concern a 3,200-name list seized by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in 2009 from the now defunct Consulting Association, which sold details of blacklisted workers to more than 40 customers including Carillion subsidiaries, Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty.

However, Carillion chief executive Richard Howson has hit back at claims made by GMB about the contractor.

He said: “Carillion is led by strong values and we take our commitment to transparency and openness extremely seriously which is why we are sorry that one of our former subsidiary businesses, Crown House Engineering, used the Consulting Association’s database to reference individuals.

“This was not consistent with the high standards of behaviour that we set for ourselves, based on our core values.

“The GMB has, however, made an extraordinary claim that Carillion was at the heart of the blacklisting of 3,000 people in the construction industry which totally misrepresents the facts and which they know is a falsehood.

“We want to make it absolutely clear that Carillion does not condone or engage in blacklisting.

“Crown House Engineering, the only Carillion subsidiary to access the database, discontinued its use back in 2004, long before the practice became illegal, when the HR manager responsible for accessing it, Liz Keates, put a stop to it.

“According to the ICO, Crown House was one of more than 40 construction companies to have used the database.”

Howson said Carillion wanted to “set the public record straight” and had provided a full written submission to the Scottish Affairs Committee, which is investigating the blacklisting allegations.

He added that Carillion had also requested to give evidence to the committee in person. “In particular, we want to address the appalling claims made by the GMB in their letter-writing campaign, designed to spread lies about us among our clients and prospective clients, with the aim of preventing Carillion winning and retaining work, and bolster their current membership drive.

“It is right that we do all we can to protect the public and our business from the gross distortions and threats of the GMB.”

Meanwhile, Labour MP Tom Watson has called on the Information Commissioner’s Office to inform all 3,213 people whose names are on the blacklist, contrasting the ICO’s failure to do so with the way that the Metropolitan Police was pro-actively approaching all phone-hacking victims.

The ICO discovered records on more than 3,213 workers three years ago when it raided a firm called the Consulting Association, which was used by more than 40 construction companies to vet new recruits.

So far, only 194 of these people are aware that they are on the list, having approached the ICO for the data.

Watson, who was prominent in the campaign for victims of phone hacking, told the Financial Times: “The Met Police have set the standard for the way that people have been notified over phone hacking.”

He said workers’ lives had been ruined after being placed on the blacklist and it was “now incumbent on the Information Commission to let these people know…they have a duty to do it.”

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, said it was “imperative” that the ICO did “everything in its power” to contact everyone on the list.

As Building revealed last month, the ICO has agreed to allow lawyers acting for the GMB to view names on the list and identify its members.

Amid preparations for two separate High Court cases on behalf of blacklisted workers against Carillion and Sir Robert McAlpine, observers believe this will set a precedent for other unions, including Unite and Ucatt, to follow, which could mean legal claims swelling to cover thousands of names.