Labour has called on Theresa May to rethink the appointment of Esther McVey as work and pensions secretary because McVey was a director of a demolition company served with health and safety prohibition notices, an area covered by her department.
Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, has written to the prime minister saying he had grave concern about McVey’s promotion in this week’s reshuffle because of the two notices served on the firm in 2003 owing to unsafe scaffolding.
The notices from the Health and Safety Executive were against JG McVey and Co, a now-closed firm run by McVey’s father. Esther McVey was a director of the company from February 2003 to March 2006.
In July 2003, HSE inspectors issued an immediate prohibition notice, stopping work at a demolition site in Liverpool after workers were seen using scaffolding without proper protective edge rails. In September that year, work was halted on the site for the same reason.
In 2013, McVey was made employment minister in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), a brief which initially included oversight of the HSE. However, after her connection to the infringements came to light, that element of the job was removed.
As work and pensions secretary – a job she gained after Justine Greening opted to leave the government rather than take on the brief – McVey now has overall responsibility for workplace health and safety among her duties.
In his letter to May, Trickett wrote: “While Ms McVey was a director of this demolitions firm, it was served with two prohibition notices for serious breaches of health and safety at work, including workers reportedly on scaffolding without any edge protection.
“As a director, she was one of the people ultimately responsible for endangering her workers. These violations happened on her watch.”
He added that “137 people were fatally injured at work last year, an unacceptable number. On top of this, thousands of people suffered a non-fatal injury.
“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.”
A DWP spokesman said: “These compliance notices were dealt with to a satisfactory standard at the time.”