Ahead of a Parliamentary debate on blacklisting, the Blacklist Support Group demanded answers over the awarding of the Big Ben contract to notorious blacklisters Sir Robert McAlpine.
The Speaker of the House of Commons and the Sir Robert McAlpine chief executive both joined the war of words about the £29m contract to refurbish Big Ben being awarded to the blacklist company. On Tuesday 5th September during a Westminster Hall debate on blacklisting MPs including Labour and SNP frontbenchers Jack Dromey and Chris Stephens joined Chuka Ummuna in calling for the company that was at the very heart of The Consulting Association human rights scandal to be stripped of the Big Ben contract.
The former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna went further on Thursday 7th by raising a ‘point of order’ on the floor of the House of Commons asking the Speaker, his “views and advice with regard to the matter of Big Ben” adding, “what message do you think it sends to the victims of this gross injustice for this House to award a contract to a firm that not only funded the Consulting Association, but provided its first chair and another chair?”
John Bercow replied: that the question was “perfectly legitimately and reasonable” adding that although the company had been awarded the initial contract to provide scaffolding, the full contract had not yet been officially awarded to McAlpine. The Speaker of the House of Commons summed up by confirming “It is important. We are sensitive to it and we will be conscious in the days ahead of the reputational importance” and told MPs that he would make enquiries and make a further statement.
Stung by the ongoing criticism, the chief executive of Sir Robert McAlpine Limited, Paul Hamer wrote a letter to a number of newspapers claiming that “blacklisting “has no place now or in the future” at his firm and that the contractor was committed fully to “a zero-tolerance policy towards blacklisting, illegal or unfair recruitment practices”. Adding that “I am pleased to confirm that Sir Robert McAlpine complies fully with all legislation to prevent blacklisting and is committed to fair and transparent recruitment.”
Roy Bentham, blacklisted carpenter from Liverpool and Blacklist Support Group, joint secretary responded to the McAlpine statement:
“Paul Hamer might be the CEO but Cullum McAlpine owns the company and I sat behind Cullum McAlpine when he gave evidence to the select committee investigation. Upon advice from his lawyer who was sitting next to him throughout, the blacklister in chief smugly refused to answer questions put to him by MPs.
The select committee report stated that they were ‘far from certain that all of our witnesses have told us ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’, despite many of them being under oath’. Blacklisted workers completely agree with that assessment by MPs”.
30 years ago Sir Robert McAlpine Limited denied blacklisting people as part of the Economic League, 10 years ago they denied blacklisting people as part of The Consulting Association. And now they assure us that they’ve given up blacklisting completely. Given the company’s previous honesty on blacklisting, how could anybody possibly not believe them now?”
Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail said workers were “continuing to have their lives ruined simply for being a member of a union”.
In May last year, Sir Robert McAlpine Limited was one of eight multi-national contractors (the others were Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Skanska and Vinci) that made a public apology alongside a record breaking multi-million pound compensation payout in order to avoid prosecution at the High Court.
Eight contractors – Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska and Vinci.