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New McAlpine chief goes public in reputational campaign

11 Sep 17 Sir Robert McAlpine chief executive Paul Hamer is campaigning to disassociate his company’s name from continuing allegations of blacklisting in the construction industry.

Paul Hamer, chief executive of Sir Robert McAlpine
Paul Hamer, chief executive of Sir Robert McAlpine

Sir Robert McAlpine played a key role in funding the notorious Economic League and setting up its successor the Consulting Association in the 1990s.

Paul Hamer wants the world to know that this is all in the past and that the business is now clean.

Sir Robert McAlpine has long had a reputation as one of construction’s most secretive companies and the proximity of certain family members to the corridors of power has long made it a bogey firm for leftists and the anti-authoritarian. Whether this reputation was justified or not, Alastair McAlpine’s role as Margaret Thatcher’s bag man added fuel to this fire.

Experienced construction industry journalists have found Sir Robert McAlpine to be the least open, most impenetrable organisation. Being privately owned, it does not have the same reporting rules imposed upon it, nor the same requirements for transparency, that stock market listed firms have. Its byzantine ownership structure, under the Newarthill parent umbrella and various anonymous offshore nonentities, is also opaque. Large, successful companies are always likely targets for conspiracy theorists but McAlpine does itself no favours, nor seems to care.

But maybe change is in the air.

Paul Hamer joined Sir Robert McAlpine as chief executive on 31st July 2017. He was previously chief executive of WYG, a listed consulting engineer that he led through two financial restructurings, so he is accustomed to a degree of public scrutiny.

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One of his objectives appears to be improving the public image of Sir Robert McAlpine. In a letter tonewspapers, published by The Guardian, Huffington Post and others, he seeks to distance the company from recent headlines about blacklisting in the industry. He says that the company has acknowledged its past wrong-doings, atoned for its sins by being instrumental in setting up the Construction Workers Compensation Scheme, and now behaves properly.

“As the new CEO of Sir Robert McAlpine, I want to take the opportunity to share with you our commitment to ensuring that blacklisting stays firmly in the past,” he writes. “Since my arrival, it has been one of my priorities to review the company’s HR and recruitment functions. I am pleased to confirm that Sir Robert McAlpine complies fully with all legislation to prevent blacklisting and is committed to fair and transparent recruitment. For the avoidance of doubt, I would also like to point out that we have no involvement with the Crossrail project.” [Recent blacklisting headlines have related to the Crossrail project due to allegations made by Labour MP Chuka Umunna in the House of Commons.]

Mr Hamer adds: “Sir Robert McAlpine, like all tendering contractors, is subject to significant and appropriate scrutiny before appointment to a project. Modern procurement practices carefully check all aspects of recruitment and employment to ensure that contractors comply fully with legislation and meet the standards required by the client. In turn, we carefully check the recruitment and employment practices of all our subcontractors to ensure they meet our own high standards. We have a zero tolerance policy towards blacklisting, illegal or unfair recruitment practices.”

Paul Hamer is only the second person not called McAlpine to be put in charge of the business. Tony Aikenhead, a former John Laing director of operations, was recruited as chief executive in November 2015 but he stayed just eight months. On his departure, the company put out a statement saying, in effect, that he was appointed to do a specific transition job and that job had been completed satisfactorily so all sides agreed that it was time for him to go.

Whether Paul Hamer’s services will be required more permanently remains to be seen. But given time, and authority, he might be able to remould the McAlpine image.

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