Commons committee sets sights on ODA after Sir Robert McAlpine admits to Olympic blacklist checks
The Olympic Delivery Authority was this week accused of being “deceived, negligent or gullible” on the issue of blacklisting after Olympic stadium builder Sir Robert McAlpine admitted using blacklisting organisation the Consulting Association to vet 2012 workers.
The accusation was made by Ian Davidson MP, chair of the Commons committee investigating the blacklisting scandal.
Giving evidence to the committee on Tuesday, Cullum McAlpine, non-executive director at Sir Robert McAlpine and the founding chairman of The Consulting Association (TCA), admitted the contractor used the TCA to carry out checks during recruitment of Olympic workers.
The admission follows a letter sent by the company’s director of operations Tony Aikenhead to ODA chief executive Dennis Hone before Christmas, which denied the firm was involved in Olympic blacklisting.
In a week of rapid developments on the growing scandal, Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Ummuna called on the construction firms which used TCA to apologise and to establish a compensation fund for victims deprived of work.
During his evidence, McAlpine told MPs that Sir Robert McAlpine had used the Consulting Association “a lot” in 2008 on number of large projects including ground works on the Olympic stadium, but said none of the workers checked were denied employment on the Olympic job.
He said: “We did check workers who came onto the site, and there were no references so nobody was affected. By the time the main project had started TCA had been raided by the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
Asked by Davidson whether the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) asked about blacklisting at the time, he replied: “Certainly not”.
He said: “When we were negotiating the [stadium] contract, it wasn’t raised. It has been raised subsequent to the completion of the Olympic Park”. He added that “political pressure” had been the cause of this.
Speaking after the meeting, Davidson said there was an apparent contradiction between McAlpine’s evidence and the letter sent by Aikenhead to the ODA. He added that it was
likely that the ODA would be asked to give evidence to his committee.
“From the evidence I have seen and heard so far, I am unclear whether the ODA were deceived, gullible or negligent,” he said.
Opening a Commons debate on blacklisting on Wednesday, Umunna called for the government to undertake a full investigation into blacklisting and said it was an “utter disgrace” that none of the construction firms using TCA had properly apologised.
“The construction companies involved [should] consider setting up a fund into which they could all pay, which could immediately begin to compensate those workers who were blacklisted for the immense loss they have suffered,” he added.
A spokesperson for Sir Robert McAlpine said: “We have been absolutely transparent about our use of TCA both to the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Olympic Delivery Authority.”
The spokesperson added that the company sought only to identify workers with a “record of illegal activity.”
The ODA declined to comment.
McAlpine performance gives insight into defence
What Cullum McAlpine didn’t say on blacklisting was as significant as what he did say, writes Will Hurst.
McAlpine, a member of the McAlpine family and director of Sir Robert McAlpine for over 40 years, was accompanied by the firm’s top lawyer Peter Brinley-Codd and repeatedly declined to answer questions put by MPs, citing the ongoing High Court action against the contractor. In so doing, he provided an insight into what could form the basis of Sir Robert McAlpine’s legal defence against claims for compensation by workers who alleged their livelihoods were destroyed by
McAlpine said his firm had never operated a blacklist and said he’d been told not to answer any question which linked the term “blacklisting” with the Consulting Association.
Asked by clearly sceptical committee chairman Ian Davidson to explain the term “blacklist”, McAlpine said: “My understanding of the term … is a list of names which automatically prohibits or prevents those listed from enjoying whatever the benefit – whether it’s a club, or employment – is.”
In other words, expect the element of discretion that the members of the Consulting Association supposedly enjoyed in deciding whether to employ workers to be a key area of legal argument.
How blacklisting hit the headlines this week:
Last Friday Building’s exclusive reveals workers bidding for jobs on the London 2012 Olympic Games with Balfour Beatty were subject to Blacklist checks - the first explicit admission of a link between the Olympics and blacklisting.
Sunday The story on Balfour Beatty is picked up by the Observer. In response to the story Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna tables a motion to be debated in parliament on Wednesday calling for a full investigation into blacklisting. This is widely covered in the media on Sunday and Monday.
Tuesday Sir Robert McAlpine director Cullum McAlpine appears before MPs on the Scottish Affairs committee as part of its blacklisting inquiry. McAlpine admits Sir Robert McAlpine also made blacklist checks against workers on its Olympic stadium project. The story is covered by Channel 4 News and the BBC. Unite calls for a ‘Leveson-style’ inquiry to investigate blacklisting.
Wednesday Blacklisting hits the headlines and is on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. The issue is debated in parliament, with Labour calling for the government to “immediately” begin a full investigation. Ummuna said blacklisting was an “absolute disgrace” and called on companies involved to apologise and set up a compensation fund.
Views on blacklisting
The blacklisting that occurred was a completely unacceptable practice
David Cameron, prime minister
This is a scandal on the scale of phone hacking, except it is the lives of workers
Len McCluskey, Unite
This is an utter disgrace … the companies should issue an apology now
Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary
When a person”s life has been affected by a blacklist … they should have rights to compensation
John Mann, MP
If there’s evidence forthcoming [that blacklisting is ongoing] I will investigate it
Vince Cable, business secretary
We need an inquiry into blacklisting so that the full truth can come out
Steve Murphy, UCATT