Consulting Association

The Consulting Association was an organisation in the United Kingdom which maintained a list of construction workers some of whom were active trade union members, or were otherwise vocal on matters such as unofficial health and safety complaints in their industry. Some were suspected by construction companies of being left-wing troublemakers. 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, Sir 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 an organisation called Consulting Association held files on about 3,200 construction workers, including political activists, shop stewards and health and safety representatives. The database was seized four years ago and Ian Kerr, who had been employed to facilitate the exchange of information, 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. But full details of the material it contained 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 cannot be verified. Meanwhile, Sir Robert McAlpine, 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.

TCA was based in Droitwich.

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.

In August 2012, the pressure group Liberty threatened to take the UK government to court to force an investigation into the case. 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. A loan of £20,000 was paid by Sir Robert McAlpine to set the company up at that time. 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.

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. 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.

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

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

Read more about Consulting Association:  Member Organisations, Further Measures

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