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Esther McVey’s appointment as minister with HSE oversight “inappropriate”, claim GMB and Labour

The appointment of Esther McVey as work and pensions secretary has been criticised by the GMB trade union and the Labour party on the grounds that she was formerly a director of a demolition firm that was twice ordered to stop work by safety inspectors.

Esther McVey’s appointment as minister with HSE oversight “inappropriate”, claim GMB and Labour
©iBruce Adams/Associated Newspapers/REX/Shutterstock

McVey’s appointment as secretary of State for Work and Pensions gives her overall responsibility for the Department for Work and Pensions, including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

However, Labour and the GMB have both called on Prime Minister Theresa May to reconsider her decision.  

McVey was in charge of the HSE in 2013 after taking up the role of Minister of State for Employment. 

However, that part of her job was removed after it emerged she had been a director of J G McVey and Co, a former demolition company run by her father that was handed two immediate prohibition notices by the HSE in 2002 and 2003 at construction sites in Liverpool and Macclesfield. 

The first related to the demolition of a five-storey office building where two unqualified scaffolders were working without guardrails, harnesses or hi-viz jackets.

The second was served after “a demolition operative was seen working at height outside edge protection / scaffolding”, the notice said, and the risk of fall was 2 m or greater.

McVey was a director of the company from February 2003 to March 2006. 

She was promoted on 8 January during Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle.

According to the Guardian, the shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett has written a letter to Theresa May in which he says: “As a director, [McVey] was one of the people ultimately responsible for endangering her workers. These violations happened on her watch. 

“It begs the question whether it is appropriate for someone who has previously been in breach of health and safety regulations to be promoted to a role that is meant to protect people at work.” 

Dan Shears, national officer for health and safety at the trade union GMB said: “It has already been shown beyond question that Esther McVey is a deeply unsuitable person to be responsible for the health and safety of UK workers.

“She was the director of a business that put workers at serious risk to the point that the work had to be immediately prohibited.

“At best she'll be oblivious to the human toll caused by health and safety failings - at worst her cavalier attitude risks endangering workers.

“It beggars belief that the Prime Minister deemed it fit to hand Esther McVey a brief she had previously been unceremoniously stripped of in such murky and troubling circumstances.”


Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine


  • I note that GMB trade union

    Permalink Submitted by Pat on 16 January 2018 - 01:23 pm

    I note that GMB trade union and the Labour party both suggest that Ms McVey is unsuitable for the position due to the previous performance of a company of which she was a director.

    On that basis, the GMB should not be represented on anything to do with union rules as they breached them in the case of Mr C King v GMB, heard by Employment Tribunal 22 March 207.

    Neither should the Labour party be represented on anything to do with employment law due to their admonishment in the court by Mr Justice Phillips in the Tony Greenstein case.

    To the Labour party and the GMB id would suggest that if you must comment, select a sensible subject not what appears to be just a points scoring exercise.

  • Is this IOSH magazine or a

    Permalink Submitted by Tony Hill on 16 January 2018 - 01:30 pm

    Is this IOSH magazine or a daily red top?.

    Stick to the safety brief and leave the tawdry politics to politicians. GMB and Labour party have all got skeletons in their cupboards I am sure!

    Lord Robens - was a proper money grabbing mine boss before becoming the darling of the politically correct set back in the day!

    Politics in the UK are sinking fast as is the general image of Safety with its holier than thou politically correct approach and over cooking the metal health issue etc.

    Very dissapointed

  • Since the HSC was absorbed by

    Permalink Submitted by Dale Banham on 16 January 2018 - 05:02 pm

    Since the HSC was absorbed by DWP there has been a plethora of poor judgements and leadership matters, regarding Health & Safety across all industries, generally. This latest appointment/article re the Education Minister for CSCS/CITB leaves even more concern. The HSC and HSL were doing a good job before but now constant meddled with by ministers is creating a waste of time, expense and spin. Its about time ministers realised there is a benefit by putting control back into the HSE as Lord Robens initially identified!

  • Fair point!

    Permalink Submitted by Bravo2sugars on 16 January 2018 - 09:58 pm

    Fair point!

  • This article does not seem

    Permalink Submitted by Pb on 17 January 2018 - 03:41 pm

    This article does not seem appropriate, it reeks of a piece of political point scoring with zero real value. Where is the balance?

    Is it the opinion of IOSH that Esther McVey is at best oblivious to the human toll of health and safety failings and she could endanger people? Do you believe that a prohibition notice to a Director renders them incapable of change and they should not be trusted in the future?

    Where there are direct quotations such as this I believe you have a responsibility to present something to counter the one sided opinion. A balanced view could have noted no further lapses, indicating maybe that they implemented change and properly managed their Health and Safety.

  • Thanks everyone for your

    Permalink Submitted by Louis_Wustemann on 17 January 2018 - 04:51 pm

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Pat, Pb and Tony, I think you could accuse the GMB and Labour of point scoring if the responsibility for the HSE had not previously been removed from Esther McVey's portfolio as employment minister and shifted to Mike Penning in 2013 immediately after the same points about J G McVey and Co's safety record were made (though not by the Labour Party or unions).


  • Thanks for the reply Louis.

    Permalink Submitted by Pb on 18 January 2018 - 02:20 pm

    Thanks for the reply Louis.

    Was the previous removal of the responsibility a knee jerk reaction to a press story? If she was removed because of a genuine lack of competence to fulfil the role then the critique would be fair, likewise if there was a conviction or evidence of ongoing disregard for health and safety.

    I have worked for many firms that have received prohibition notices. Some fair, some maybe not so fair. Some of them were aware of sailing close to the wind and some genuinely did not realise that they weren't controlling risks properly.

    I personally feel that we should not have this kind of angle from our representative body. It is the opposite of what we try and instil on construction sites. A no blame culture only thrives properly and gives results when you allow people to understand their errors and move forward without prejudice..

  • I know that this is "old"

    Permalink Submitted by Jeffrey Smith on 24 August 2018 - 12:12 pm

    I know that this is "old" news but I still feel it is worth pointing out that, since the notices were made in 2002 and 2003, it is just possible but not at all certain that she could have been made a director from February 2003 to try to help the firm get their act in order. While I would never want to gloss over or trivialise past events, if we are for ever ruling out people because of their past, one wonders if there will be anyone left standing to do things.


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