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Last updateThu, 16 Jun 2022 8am

Why the Government has left the investigation of blacklists to the Scots.

Construction National blog logoWhile the Leveson inquiry into press standards has received mass publicity from all quarters and demands from some 'celebrities' to subject journalist to everything bar trial by ordeal, a more insidious and damaging scandal in the construction industry is attracting only a few passing mentions in specialist press and the tabloids likely to be found gracing the brew tables in site cabins (that's not being snobbish about site cabins: I have a theory that the size of your newspaper reflects the amount of free time you have to read it, as well as the space to open it!).

I am referring, of course, to the affair of the blacklist of names held by the now-defunct Consulting Association prior to its seizure in 2009 by the Office of the Information Commissioner. A number of leading contractors have admitted using the services of the organisation, including for contracts on the Olympic sites, although they deny using it to blacklist workers.

Now the issue is finally exercising MPs. The Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna described it as "...a secretive, insidious and shady practice that has brought shame on our construction industry."

He was speaking at the opening of an Opposition Day debate in January. Hang on; an opposition debate? The "thoroughly objectionable and indefensible" practice – in the words of Business Secretary Vince Cable – wasn't even the subject of a Government debate.

Indeed, at PMQs earlier on the same day, the best Mr Cameron could find to say was: "I do welcome the openness and frankness that Labour are using an Opposition Day debate to look at something that went wrong while they were in office."

The issue is now the subject of an inquiry by a Commons Committee: the Scottish Affairs Select Committee!

• When I was a teenager I worked briefly in the laboratory of a paper mill, testing samples of pulp, source water and effluent. The next-door lab had, among other pieces of equipment, a machine containing a tiny piece of a radioactive isotope for testing the paper. When the time came for this machine to be serviced we would all find things to do elsewhere on the site – fast. Someone, however, had to mind the shop and the chief chemist, being older than the rest of us, wasn't as sharp on his pins!

I'm minded of this anecdote by the news that, not a million miles from where I am sitting, a canister containing iridium 192 has been nicked from the back of a van. What it was doing there no-one is saying, but the substance has among its applications, apparently, that of the non-destructive testing of welds in the oil and gas industry. On this occasion it looks like a hi-vis jacket and hard hat just won't do the business, so I'm looking through this site's Construction Directory to see if I can find a supplier of lead-lined suits.

Seriously, though, anyone who has suffered the horrendous burns that can be associated with any kind of radiation will wish to see this thing back in its rightful place as quickly as possible.

Chris Stokes