Consulting Association

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The Consulting Association (TCA) was a business,[citation needed] based in Droitwich, which maintained a database of British construction workers. The database, often referred to as a "list" in the press[1] and by one of its founders,[2] operated as a blacklist[1][3][4] against workers who were active trade union members[5] or otherwise vocal on matters such as health and safety violations by their employers.[6] Many of the workers were on the list having been accused by previous employers of being "troublemakers"[7] or "militant";[7] other notes in the database referred to subjects' personal and family relationships,[7] and those who had pursued an employment tribunal.[5][7]

The Consulting Association was established in 1993 as a successor to the Economic League, which had previously held the construction industry's blacklist[3] but which had been wound up after a parliamentary enquiry and bad press. Construction company Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd invested a total of £20,000 in founding TCA,[2][8] buying the previous blacklist database from the Economic League and hiring one of its former employees, Ian Kerr, as manager. In press releases and written testimony submitted to the Scottish Affairs Committee by its director Callum McAlpine, the company claimed that at least several other major construction and civil engineering companies colluded in forming The Consulting Association.[8][9] This was corroborated by Kerr's written statement.[2]

Workers who were on the list allege they were deprived of their livelihoods as a result of their inclusion, with supporters claiming their human rights have been breached. Liberty has written to the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, accusing him of inaction over a privacy scandal that it compares to phone hacking. Liberty is threatening to go to court to force him to investigate the case. Details of the blacklist emerged in 2009 when it emerged that the Consulting Association held files on about 3,200 construction workers, including political activists, shop stewards and health and safety representatives.

The database was seized in 2009 and Kerr was fined £5,000. Invoices were discovered showing that 44 companies in total had paid to access the information inputted by member companies, although there were never more than 20 member companies subscribing at any one time. Full details of the information held only emerged as workers began to pursue legal action over their inclusion. An official from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) told the industrial tribunal of a person who had been blacklisted that he believed the information on the database could only have been supplied by the police or the security services, although this was not proven until the release of an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report in October 2013.[10] Meanwhile, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, the construction giant and builder of the Olympic stadium, has been served with legal papers over its alleged involvement in the database. In light of the legal action, Liberty said the time had come for the ICO to reopen an investigation into the use of the database.

Its member base consisted of 20 construction companies at any given time who would supply details of existing or former employees who had engaged in unofficial trade union or political activity. They could in turn enquire whether TCA had information about prospective employees. Companies would pay an annual £3,000 subscription, and £2.20 for each enquiry to cover the running costs of the Consulting Association. It was a non profit making trade association.[citation needed]

On February 23, 2009, the company's office was raided by the Office of the Information Commissioner, which served an enforcement notice against TCA under the terms of the Data Protection Act. The ICO states its action followed an 28 June 2008 Guardian article, Enemy at the Gates' A list of companies served notices are published by the ICO on their website.[11]

In August 2012, the pressure group Liberty threatened to take the UK government to court to force an investigation into the case.[1][4] The legal officer for Liberty, Corinna Ferguson, told the Independent: "We can't believe the inaction of the Information Commissioner on a human-rights violation of such wide public interest. The Blacklist Support Group which formed in the spring of 2009 has been at the forefront of gaining justice for those victims of this database. After mixed results within the Tribunal System due to the tight time constraints and employee status placed within legislation, the group took up civil claims which received attention before the High Court in February 2013. The Human Rights solicitors Guney, Clark and Ryan have been entrusted in delivering these multiple cases against the biggest subscriber, although the most ethical, of the database Sir Robert McAlpine.

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee convened an inquiry. Key witnesses including the late Ian Kerr and Cullum McAlpine of the Consulting Association have given evidence relating to the company. McAlpine was the chair of the entity over a number of years and was the founding chair at its inception in 1993. Mr Cullum McAlpine also stated that his company paid the £5,000 fine, handed down to Ian Kerr in 2009 upon being found guilty of failing to register TCA under data protection laws. Mr McAlpine also admitted in his evidence that names of potential employees were checked against the data base of names for work on the multi million pound Olympics project up until as late as the Autumn of 2008 although no applicants were denied employment.[12]

The multi billion pound London Crossrail project has also been beset with accusations and evidence that blacklisting is still being practised on this, the biggest construction contract in Western Europe. Ron Barron employed by the consortium contractor Bam Ferrovial Kier routinely checked the Consulting Association database during his employment at CB&I and in 2007 he personally made 900 checks himself.[5] The government's Crossrail project is embroiled in a scandal over the blacklisting of construction workers after a senior manager on the rail link emerged as a regular user of the blacklist in a previous job. Ron Barron, industrial relations manager on the railway being built across London, cross-checked job applicants against a secret list of workers to be barred from the industry, a list that he helped to compile. An employment tribunal found that he introduced the use of the blacklist at his former employer, the construction firm CB&I, and referred to it more than 900 times in 2007 alone. The list of names, which was funded by construction companies was seized in 2009 by the Information Commissioner's office, but the full scale of its reach and the behaviour of the firms funding it has yet to emerge.

Revelations concerning the scandal so far point to Police collusion although some names appeared on the list because of violence, theft from site, threatening behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse. The Blacklist Support Group appointed Christian Khan solicitors in Autumn 2012 to submit a complaint over such detailed surveillance documented within certain files to the Directorate of Professional Standards. They initially dismissed the accusations until the IPCC stepped in to conduct its own current investigation in February 2013.[13] In October 2013, the IPCC confirmed that the police had colluded in the blacklist, saying it was 'likely that all special branches were involved in providing information' to the list.[10]

A clandestine National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) police officer attended one meeting with 8 company HR managers.

240 women have also been found to have had files kept on them.[14]

On 10 October 2013, eight construction firms which had been involved in the blacklist apologised for their actions, and agreed to pay compensation to affected workers. However, the workers said their legal action for compensation would continue. The eight firms were Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O'Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Skanska UK and Vinci.[15]

Member organisations[edit]

The OIC press release included a list of over 40 construction companies who were current or previous users of TCA.[11]

Further measures[edit]

Ian Kerr was prosecuted for failing to register as a data controller. He pleaded guilty and was fined £5000 in July 2009.[16]

The IOC announced that from March 16, 2009, a telephone enquiry service would be opened for people who suspected they may be listed on The Consulting Association's database.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Morris, Nigel (7 August 2012). "Thousands of workers 'blacklisted' over political views". The Independent. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c Kerr, Ian. "Written evidence from Ian Kerr" (PDF). Scottish Affairs Committee. Retrieved 14 October 2013. Lay summary (2012-11-27). 
  3. ^ a b "Blacklisting in Employment: Interim Report (Conclusions and recommendations)". Scottish Affairs Committee. 16 April 2013. "Paragraph 2". Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  4. ^ a b http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/08/07-3
  5. ^ a b c Boffey, Daniel (2 December 2012). "Crossrail project dragged into blacklist scandal". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  6. ^ "Firm 'sold workers' secret data'". BBC News Channel. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Blacklisting in Employment: Interim Report (Annex A—Examples from the blacklist)". Scottish Affairs Committee. 16 April 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Written evidence submitted by Cullum McAlpine, Director of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd.". Scottish Affairs Committee. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  9. ^ "Big liars: Blacklister shows that site blacklists are alive and killing". Hazards Magazine. October–December 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2013. Sir Robert McAlpine wasn’t willing to carry the can for the whole industry; other hands were dirty, it indicated. A company statement said: “The Consulting Association was established by a large group of construction companies and Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd was not solely responsible for the establishment or the funding of The Consulting Association.” 
  10. ^ a b Boffey, Daniel (12 October 2013). "Police colluded in secret plan to blacklist 3,200 building workers". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "The Consulting Association". Information Commissioner's Office. Retrieved 5 May 2013. Which companies used The Consulting Association? The list below shows the companies that subscribed to The Consulting Association. The use of brackets indicates where companies have undergone a change of name or where subsidiaries have been absorbed by parent companies. Ex members may no longer exist or no longer avail themselves of the service. Amec Building Ltd Amec Construction Ltd Amec Facilities Ltd Amec Ind Div Amec Process & Energy Ltd Amey Construction – Ex Member B Sunley & Sons – Ex Member Balfour Beatty Balfour Kilpatrick Ballast (Wiltshire) PLc – Ex Member Bam Construction (HBC Construction) Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd) C B & I Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd Costain UK Ltd Crown House Technologies (Carillion/Tarmac Const) Diamond M & E Services Dudley Bower & Co Ltd – Ex Member Emcor (Drake & Scull) - ‘Ex Ref’ Emcor Rail G Wimpey Ltd – Ex Member Haden Young Kier Ltd John Mowlem Ltd -Ex Member Laing O’Rourk (Laing Ltd) Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd – Ex Member Miller Construction Limited – Ex Member Morgan Ashurst Morgan Est Morrison Construction Group – Ex Member N G Bailey Shepherd Engineering Services Sias Building Services Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd Skanska (Kaverna/Trafalgar House Plc) SPIE (Matthew Hall) - Ex Member Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd – Ex Member Turriff Construction Ltd –Ex Member Tysons Contractors – Ex Member Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd - Ex Member Whessoe Oil & Gas Willmott Dixon – Ex Member Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group). 
  12. ^ http://www.building.co.uk/news/mcalpine-admits-olympic-stadium-blacklist-checks/5049091.article
  13. ^ Taylor, Matthew (21 February 2013). "Met police launch inquiry into construction worker blacklisting". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 May 2013. The Metropolitan police have launched an investigation into allegations of collusion in the blacklisting of construction workers. Officers are alleged to have handed information on individual workers to the blacklist, keeping thousands of builders and electricians out of work and driving some into long-term destitution. This month it emerged that the Met had dismissed a complaint from the Blacklisting Support Group which claimed police involvement in compiling the 3,200-name list that came to light in 2009. After growing concern among politicians and union leaders, however, the decision has been overturned and the force confirmed on Thursday that an inquiry was under way. "An investigation is now being carried out under the supervision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission," the Met said. "It would not be appropriate for us to comment further at this time." The information commissioner's office said last year that some of the content on the blacklist, not surprisingly, could have come from the police or security services. 
  14. ^ http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/latest_news/msp_meeting_on_blacklisting.aspx
  15. ^ Evans, Rob (10 October 2013). "Construction firms to compensate unlawfully blacklisted workers". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 
  16. ^ http://www.ico.org.uk/news/current_topics/consulting_association
  17. ^ http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_the_public/topic_specific_guides/consulting_association.aspx