24 January 2013
Director of Sir Robert McAlpine Cullum McAlpine admitted using a blacklist to recruit for large public projects including the Olympics.
As a witness brought in front of the Scottish Affairs Committee, which is currently running an inquiry into blacklisting, Mr McAlpine claimed ignorance or a poor memory over many of the key issues, but confessed to heavy use of the Consulting Association’s blacklist during 2008.
However, he stated that McAlpine was not using the blacklist to look for trade unionist activity, but to look for illegal migrants following a raid on one of its sites in previous years.
In fact, Mr McAlpine denied that his company – or any of Consulting Association’s members – intended to use the blacklist to weed-out trade unionists and workers who were members of left-wing parties.
He stated instead that when the Consulting Association purchased the records of the Economic League as a foundation of its blacklist – or “reference service”, as he called it – there was concern that there may be entries that the members would not be comfortable with, including those who had been blacklisted for political affiliations or trade union activities. Mr McAlpine claimed that he “urged” Ian Kerr, CEO of Consulting Association, to get rid of these old cards and said that he thought this had been performed.
Mr Kerr died in late 2012, just two weeks after giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee.
Kerr’s widow has told the Committee that the money paid to her husband by Sir Robert McAlpine following the raid on the Consulting Association by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009 was paid into her daughter’s bank accounts. It has also been claimed that all documentation signed by Cullum McAlpine was returned to him at this time. Ian Kerr stated that the money he was paid was intended to keep the name of the company out of the scandal.
Again, Mr McAlpine denied all knowledge of clandestine behaviour, saying there would be no point in being secretive if the Information Commissioner’s Office had already raided the Consulting Association. During previous evidence sessions, however, it has been revealed the organisation only ever seized between 5% and 10% of evidence from the Consulting Association. Mr McAlpine claimed that the money paid to Mr Kerr was a handed over as a “humanitarian and reasonable action” and not to cover anything up.
Although Mr McAlpine was chairman of the Consulting Association between 1993 and 1996, he also denied that he had anything to do with the operation of the organisation, nor did he know much about it, even though all meetings were held at McAlpine’s headquarters. He claimed he was only ever put in the position to ensure the financial stability of the Consulting Association over the first three years and was unaware of the details of its activities.
What’s more, he stated that “there was no director as such” of the Consulting Association and that Ian Kerr was mostly left to work independently, with no one monitoring his work or the actions of the organisation. When it came to the criteria whereby workers were added to the list by the members, he claimed that there was no firm criteria discussed and each of the organisations made their own rules about who should be forwarded to the Consulting Association. However, he claimed that the list was intended to be of workers who had committed criminal acts on building sites or who were “disruptive” onsite. This, he said, included those who went outside of the agreement which the construction industry has with trade unions and who did not follow procedure.
Following the frank evidence of Ian Kerr, in which Sir McAlpine was implicated heavily in the scandal, there was a fair amount of cynicism among the members of the panel as well as the public gallery.
Mr McAlpine was disallowed from answering some of the main questions by his legal adviser due to the fact he is also facing charges in the High Court, where he will try to defend himself and his company against the evidence of the Blacklist Support Group. The outcome of this trial and the remainder of the Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry seems likely to reveal further shady information about Sir Robert McAlpine and many other major players in the construction industry.
Indeed, as was mentioned by the panel during his evidence session – in an interview reminiscent of evidence given by senior staff of News International during the Leveson inquiry – there seems to be a lot of things going on in Sir McAlpine, right under its director’s nose, that he claims to be unaware of.