Exclusive: Information Commissioner’s latest move could ‘massively’ swell High Court action against contractors

Construction worker

Thousands more workers could join High Court claims against major contractors over blacklisting after watchdog the Information Commissioner finally agreed to contact individuals unaware they are on a 3,200-strong blacklist.

The latest move, which will involve the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) proactively contacting individuals, comes four years after the ICO seized the database from a body called the Consulting Association.

The move is likely to “massively” swell the size of two separate High Court actions on blacklisting being prepared against Carillion and Sir Robert McAlpine, according to Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group.

The now defunct Consulting Association sold details of blacklisted workers to more than 40 customers including Carillion, Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty.

However, fewer than 200 of the 3,200 workers have been informed because ICO policy until now has been to confirm individuals are on the blacklist only if they contact the ICO in writing with proof of identity.

David Smith, deputy commissioner at the ICO, who this week gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs select committee inquiry into blacklisting, told Building it had agreed to help union Ucatt identify its members on the blacklist following a similar agreement struck with the GMB.

“We are also looking at contacting those [on the list] who are not GMB or Ucatt members,” he said. Blacklist Support Group campaigner Dave Smith said the move could significantly increase the number of people involved in the court actions. “This is a big step forward and will make the court actions massively bigger,” he said.

Pressure on Carillion also intensified after it emerged that the GMB union - which is handling the High Court claim 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”.

Richard Howson, Carillion chief executive, said the firm does not “condone or engage in blacklisting” but apologised on behalf of former subsidiary Crown House Engineering, which he said had used the Consulting Association database. “This was not consistent with the high standards of behaviour that we set for ourselves, based on our core values,” he said.

Howson attacked what he called “gross distortions and threats” made by the GMB. “Crown House Engineering, the only Carillion subsidiary to access the database, discontinued its use back in 2004, long before the practice became illegal,” he said.

A Birmingham council spokesperson defended Carillion’s appointment, adding: “The contractual arrangement we have with them has a number of remedies which would enable the council to address any issues should they arise”.