Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Man who compiled industrial blacklist comes out of the dark

MPs told secret vetting service has been used  for major construction projects for two decades

Construction firms working on landmark projects including the London Olympics, Wembley Stadium and the Millennium Dome were among those who used a secret “blacklist” to screen out troublesome left-wing workers, MPs have been told.

Ian Kerr, the man who ran the industry blacklist for more than a decade, also claimed it was originally set up through a loan from leading construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine.

Mr Kerr’s evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, which is conducting an investigation into blacklisting, was the first time he has spoken in public since the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) shut down his organisation, The Consulting Association, in 2009.

He told MPs that Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty had both used the vetting services for contracts they had for work on Olympic projects. Kerr added that monitoring of the Crossrail project had also been discussed by companies. “It was to ensure they were built on time,” he told MPs.

Revealing previously unknown details of the Association’s work, Mr Kerr said the it was founded in 1993 when Sir Robert McAlpine paid £10,000 to obtain some of the names collected by blacklisting organisation, the Economic League, which was folding in part due to media exposures of its activities

Mr Kerr, who had worked for the League since 1969 infiltrating meetings and compiling reports, was appointed the Association’s chief officer. Construction companies which subscribed to its services for around £2,500 a year supplied information on suspect employees  – usually union activists – and sat on its organising boards. Companies additionally paid around £1.50 to have Mr Kerr search his files for names.  

In total, 44 companies at one time or another were subscribers to the Association but that averaged around 20 a year, he claimed. They included the biggest names in the business from Skanska to Tarmac, Kier and Trafalgar House.

Mr Kerr insisted to MPs that he was merely “like a speaking clock” repeating back information on individuals supplied by construction firms. He said the only reason information was held was to ensure “troublemakers” didn’t stop building projects. He added: “I regret if any genuine hardship had been caused.”

Manchester electrician Steve Acheson was one of those with a file and along with a dozen other blacklisted workers was at the meeting to hear Mr Kerr give evidence.

“The secret files the Consulting Association kept on me were used to unfairly dismiss me on job after job for more than raising genuine safety issues,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Sir Robert McAlpine said: “The Consulting Association was established by a large group of construction companies and Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd was not solely responsible for the establishment or the funding of The Consulting Association.”