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Olympics blacklisting - 'ODA were deceived, gullible or negligent'

Not so long ago the ODA was being touted by its former Chair, John Armitt, as a model for running infrastructure projects. Politicians and others should not interfere in these projects, which should receive cross-party support, instead they should be overseen by a quango - like the ODA. Armitt's proposal is backed by the Labour Party, which has created a panel to investigate the management of infrastructure projects. Lord Adonis, one of Armitt's panellists, rushed to endorse his proposal.

Armitt's big idea is based on his claim that the ODA 'got it right'. Far from getting it right the ODA failed to carry out its functions safely, as in the botched remediation, harassed and persecuted local residents affected by its programmes at places like Leyton Marsh and Leabank Square and lied constantly about alleged legacies such as Stratford City or the 'largest new park in Europe for 150 years'.

Now further evidence has emerged of its failure to investigate or even pay attention to allegations of blacklisting by its contractors. The case of Frank Morris was already known back in February 2011. The ODA took no action in response to the protests which followed over either the original sacking of a co-worker or of Frank Morris himself, when he raised objections to the original abuse.

In November 2012, the ODA's Chief Executive, Dennis Hone, told the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigating blacklisting:

“The ODA did not receive any evidence or could find any evidence of blacklisting on the Olympic Park during the construction phase or otherwise." He also claimed that: “At that time there was a discussion with our contractors and we requested evidence from people making the allegations and no evidence was forthcoming. If it had been then we would have gone after the contractors involved."

However, this claim by Hone, that there had been discussions with contractors, has been contradicted by Callum McAlpine, non-executive director at Sir Robert McAlpine and the founding chairman of The Consulting Association (TCA), the blacklisting body set up to carry out checks on workers. When he was questioned by Ian Davidson, the Chair of the Select Committee, as to whether the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) had asked about blacklisting at the time, McAlpine replied:

“Certainly not”. He went on: “When we were negotiating the [stadium] contract, it wasn’t raised. It has been raised subsequent to the completion of the Olympic Park”.

Following the revelations to the Select Committee in November when Ian Kerr said McAlpine, Balfour Beatty and possibly Skanska had all used the services of his Consulting Association the ODA wrote to the companies concerned in December 2012 to ask if they had used blacklisting consultants. In response Skanska have continued to deny the claims, despite Ian Kerr's evidence and the fact that one of its subcontractors, Daletech Services, had done so. Sir Robert McAlpine had already acknowledged that it had helped set up The Consulting Association and Tony Aikenhead did not deny the Association had been used, only that no-one had been denied employment as a result:

“Sir Robert McAlpine limited was not involved in any blacklisting (by which I mean discrimination against individuals which would prevent them gaining employment) at the Olympic stadium.”

Balfour Beatty's Chief Executive Mike Peasland was more forthcoming:

“In 2008, we used the Consulting Association (TCA) in connection with the engagement of 12 operatives. All 12 operatives concerned were employed after our check. We found no evidence of checks being made with TCA resulting in the denial of employment."

All of this contradicts the ODA's previous claims that blacklisting was not occurring, that it had investigated allegations and that no evidence existed of blacklisting.

Now the Labour Party is calling for an inquiry. Shadow Employment Relations Minister, Ian Murray, told UnionNews:

“What we’ve had so far is not quite the tip of the iceberg, but there’s obviously much more of this to come out. Some of what we know already about the blacklisting files is absolutely horrendous and it might take legislation in the long term to prevent it happening in future.”

Linda Clarke, professor of European industrial relations at Westminster Business School, pointed out to the BBC Radio Four's PM programme that there is a long history of blacklisting, particularly in the construction industry:

“We have interviewed building workers from the 50s and 60s and all of them talk about blacklisting – in some cases they or their family had been blacklisted. A lot of the information on the blacklist involved ‘making a fuss’ about health and safety. It seems totally cavalier that when [firms] are short of skilled people, instead of listening to them they don’t employ them any more.”

Given this long history of blacklisting it is plain the ODA should have known this was likely to happen on such a high profile project as the Olympics and been prepared for it. After hearing the testimony of the industry bosses and Mr Hone the Select Committee Chair Mr Davidson was moved to comment:

“From the evidence I have seen and heard so far, I am unclear whether the ODA were deceived, gullible or negligent.”

Negligent would seem the most appropriate description. Whichever is the case it is plain the ODA has taken a tumble from its pedestal.

So what now for Armitt's ODA modelled infrastructure quango and Labour's advisory panel now that Labour Shadow Ministers are demanding an inquiry into the super quango's failure to uphold labour rights?

Blacklist it?

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