Conclusions and recommendations |
The Consulting Association
1. We are not satisfied with the explanations we have received about the creation of TCA and the parallel development of CAPRiM. It is not at all clear to us why any money would have had to have been paid for the files of the Services Group, since it was a membership organisation and therefore its property was, presumably, that of its members, who went on to be the founding members of TCA.
2. It is very clear to us that the service which the Consulting Association offered was a blacklisting one: that is, subscriber companies put information into and took information out of a database, and they used the information on that database to make decisions about whether or not to employ certain individuals. We concede that the legislative framework meant this was not initially illegal, and it was a service which the Economic League had performed for many yearsbut by the end of TCA's life it certainly was illegal and all those involved should have know that. We consider it unethical, and to be condemned. We do not accept the argument made in self-justification that blacklisting did not occur because people were not automatically excluded from employment. This is evasive wordplay.
3. We are not satisfied that sufficient action has been taken to alert individuals to the fact that information was improperly held about them by the Consulting Association, and that checks were made against this database by construction companies. The ICO has relied too much on individuals to take the initiative and contact it, rather than trying to identify the people who were on TCA's blacklist. Many may be unaware that they were being systematically discriminated against in employment. They deserve to know. We acknowledge that the ICO is now doing more to contact those whose names and details were held by TCA, and we welcome this direction of travel, but encourage the ICO to go further and to work closely with trade unions who have been active in this field. We recommend that the ICO write to us to update us on their progress.
4. We find the ICO's justification for leaving behind the vast majority of documents at TCA's office unconvincing. We accept that the ICO was concerned that the warrant which it had obtained was limited in scope, but we regret that more documents were not seized. Even if the Consulting Association is now defunct, there remains the possibility that its activities could have been more widespread than has so far come to light. A greater degree of curiosity on the ICO's part might have demonstrated this one way or the other.
Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd
5. We were not persuaded by Mr McAlpine's description of his role with the Consulting Association as being hands-off. We accept that there was little direct supervision of Ian Kerr's activities as Chief Officer of the organisation, and in that sense Mr McAlpine acted as a non-executive Chairman. However, his position as the founding Chairman, and as a Director of one of the biggest spenders on TCA's services, suggests that his involvement may have been rather more substantial than he suggested. The evidence we heard from Mr Kerr suggested that he was simply a paid employee of TCA and that initiative and direction came from elsewhere. We see no reason to doubt this.
6. Skanska's claim is that its use of the Consulting Association was essentially dependent on one individual, Stephen Quant, who is no longer with the company. We have no evidence to contradict this, though it seems implausible that no-one else in the company had the slightest inkling that potential employees or subcontractors were being systematically checked against a database. We acknowledge the extent to which Skanska subsequently faced up to its responsibilities in this regard once caught, and conducted a swift internal review. We look forward to examining this process in more detail. We also heard extensive evidence from Skanska that practices and cultures within the company had changed fundamentally as a result of this review. We accept that Skanska has made significant efforts to cooperate with the ICO.
7. We remain concerned by the failure of Skanska to hold any individual to account for the wrongdoing which it has acknowledged. There is much in the company's determination to accept corporate responsibility to be admired, but the fact remains that thousands of workers may have had their employment prospects blighted and their lives significantly disrupted, whereas those responsible for the illicit use of TCA's blacklist may still be employed by Skanska.
8. We welcome the fact that Balfour Beatty has acknowledged that it was mistaken in using the services of the Consulting Association. We also welcome the fact that the company conducted an internal review in the wake of the ICO's raid. On the first point, however, while we are sure that Balfour Beatty regrets being caught, we were less convinced that management regretted its involvement with TCA. On the second point, we cannot comment on the robustness or extent of the internal review until we see a copy of the document. We encourage Balfour Beatty to engage with us in a spirit of openness and honesty.
9. The final point is, once again, the lack of individual accountability. Balfour Beatty confirmed that no-one had been sacked or made redundant as a result of the company's wrongdoing. We find this difficult to accept. Admission of corporate responsibility is an admirable thing, but it can be no substitute for holding individuals to account when they have committed illicit or illegal acts. It is hard to see how workers who have been systematically and illegally denied employment will understand that the perpetrators are still in their jobs. We do not accept the defence that people were only obeying orders.
10. People must be made aware that they have been blacklisted if they are to be able to seek any form of redress.
11. If a company discriminates against a worker on the basis of data improperly (let alone inaccurately) held, that company should be liable for any loss of earnings suffered. We recommend that the Government reviews this as a matter of urgency.
12. We will return to the issue of compensation in respect of blacklisting as our inquiry progresses and seek to make concrete recommendations to the Government.