Scottish Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Cullum McAlpine, Director of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd.
THURSDAY 17 JANUARY 2013
1. The statement below is intended to provide the Committee with background detail on the role of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd (SRM) in the Consulting Association (TCA) and the rationale behind the establishment of TCA by the construction and civil engineering industries. I was appointed as a Director of SRM on 1 January 1970; I am currently a non-executive Director.
2. The statement has been prepared on the basis of my recollection; I have not retained any documents which relate to my involvement with TCA, which ceased over 10 years ago. I have read the transcript of Mr Ian Kerr’s evidence to the Committee as published on the Committee’s website.
3. At the time of the establishment of TCA, its founding members agreed that there should be a chairman. I was appointed by the founding members to ensure that TCA was set up on a secure and viable commercial and financial basis. After my initial term had finished all following chairmen were from a Human Resource background.
4. Mr Kerr, (who was already involved informally when I was appointed) in his evidence to the Committee, stated that there were at least 14 founding members from major construction and civil engineering companies. SRM volunteered my services and, at the time of my appointment, it was intended that I should undertake the role for a period of three years. I was succeeded by four chairmen from different companies.
5. In his evidence, Mr Kerr was correct in stating that initial contributions of £20,000 were made by SRM. These funds were made available in the form of a loan and were to cover start-up activity. The loan was repaid once subscription income began to be received.
6. The main purpose of TCA was effectively to help the industry act as insurance against those who were intent on illegally disrupting the industry’s ability to perform contracts for their customers and also to act as a forum for progressing industrial relations.
7. Around the time that TCA was founded there were discussions in respect of the acquisition of the records of the Economic League. It was agreed that, if these records were used, they would need to be amended to remove any and all references which were not relevant to the purposes of TCA going forward. For the avoidance of doubt, I was not personally involved at any time with the Economic League.
8. As far as I and SRM were concerned, TCA was intended to protect SRM and the other construction companies against deliberately disruptive and unlawful behaviour on construction sites, and not to be a mechanism for discriminating against members of trade unions.
9. SRM has always viewed a constructive relationship with trade unions as fundamental to the effective and safe operation of its construction projects, and I had no reason to believe that our major competitors had any different view. Throughout the period that the Committee is investigating, health and safety issues have grown in significance and the relationship between trade unions and construction companies is essential to the industry’s success in improving its health and safety record.
10. At no time have I looked at the database which was eventually taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office; other participants may be able to be of assistance to the Committee in that respect. I am therefore unable to offer any detailed comment on the way in which it was compiled and the references which it contained.
11. The finance meetings which I attended focused on material commercial and financial matters (including predictions of anticipated subscription income), and this may be what was in Mr Kerr’s mind when he referred to the Finance Committee in his oral evidence to you. We certainly at no point discussed individuals’ records.
12. The initial founding members were all large companies from the construction industry. In later years, and after my chairmanship had finished, TCA membership was extended to smaller companies and those participating in the mechanical and electrical sub-sector of the construction industry.
13. Whilst my links with, and knowledge of, TCA diminished over the years I have never had any knowledge of information being provided to or from TCA by the police, security forces or politicians. I can specifically confirm that SRM does not have a policy or procedure of passing generic information in respect of individuals to the police or security services.
14. I was made aware of the Information Commissioner’s visit after it had occurred but not of any discussions between Mr Kerr, Mr Cochrane and the ICO officers. SRM was not one of the companies which received an enforcement notice from the ICO. When TCA was dissolved SRM was of the view—and remains of the view—that the subscribing members as a whole should ensure that the outstanding financial liabilities of TCA should be discharged by its then existing membership. Those liabilities included TCA’s responsibility for Mr Kerr and his supporting staff and that is why SRM sanctioned the payments to which Mr Kerr has alluded in the closing sections of his testimony. Our view was based on humanitarian rather than commercial factors. Unfortunately that view was not shared by most of the subscribers in 2009.
This statement is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.