The CITB should be a vehicle for world-class training but for over 50 years the levy has created resentment. It’s time for a rethink. However, current plans for reform do not go far enough

Tony Bingham

‘Big changes to how we fund training are on the way”, says the Construction Industry Training Board website. High time says yours truly.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) was conceived and born, courtesy of parliament, in 1964. It grew into a monster. It is the levy which is monstrous. If there is any item which has destroyed the relationship between our industry, training and the CITB, it is that levy. And it’s been this way for all of those 50-odd years.

If there were a referendum today to dump CITB, I would vote to keep it. Hurrah for the “big changes to how we fund training” being “on the way”.

Look, it is a criminal offence to tell a fib when filling-in the annual CITB levy return form. There is a statutory obligation to own up to employing folk who do all that work on site.

There is a fleet of CITB staff rummaging through Yellow Pages and websites to nab those companies doing construction work.

There is a statutory right to let these detectives into your office and demand your records of who you employ, what they do, what you pay them and then wallop you with that levy.

And once it is found how many lads and lasses and bricklayers and plasterers and more you engage you are bound – yes, bound – to stump up a lump of cash on each head: half a percent levy on employees (direct operatives) and multiply that by three for self-employed operatives.

Hurt? Yes. Regarded as a tax? You bet.

Makes folk grumpy? Oh, yes. But, says CITB, you get “cash back” (they call it a “grant”) if you train people. It doesn’t work. Worse still the levy is payable even if CITB has no training for your firm’s work. The bottom line is that the levy is despised. Now, today, the CITB has, at last, re-thought the levy. A group of industry figures has spent 18 months working on options.

Every bricklayer lays bricks. Put the levy on the bricks. Instead of finding bricklaying companies just find the handful of brick makers and put the levy on the sale

The aspiration of this exercise is:

  • The levy basis needs to be simpler
  • The levy return form needs to be simpler
  • The amount of levy payable will be no more, nor less than now.

I looked again at the website banner headline: “Big changes”, it said. Ahem? What big changes?  Ah yes, the levy-return form is easier to fill in.  The head count hunt for employees and labour-only folk goes on. It stays at half-percent cash for employees and 1.25% on CIS payments to labour only.

Is that it? Is that what will extinguish the huge rift between constructors and CITB? Are you sold? Let me repeat: in a referendum to keep CITB or dump it, I vote to keep it. But not without this levy tinkering going further.

Figure out what’s done now. A levy form goes out to construction firms. About 36,500 go out.  Each firm has to honestly and truly count-up the number of folk it engages in the office and on site. The plastering company counts up his plasterers, counts the money paid then hits the payroll with that levy. So, every plasterer, bricklayer, chippie and more besides is discovered. The cheques, presumably 36,500 of them, roll-in to CITB from those located (captured) by the detectives. Some pay, some escape. Lots escape, is nearer the truth. Stop it.

So, what’s the bright idea? Look, every bricklayer lays bricks. Put the levy on the bricks.  Instead of finding bricklaying companies just find the handful of brick makers and put the levy on the sale. Put the levy on cement, on plasterboard, on the raw materials. Bring the manufacturers into training and they pay the levy to CITB and become part of training. So too asphalt, sand, gravel, pipes and sticks and drums.

It’s the prime cost of the materials that attracts the tiny percentage for levy. It will come in from a tiny handful of folk and anyone fixing ceilings, partitions, fencing – whatever – pays the levy completely equally in the material prices.

Then what? Now we begin to make friends.  The “grant” – the financial costs of training –is paid out to the construction firms for that training and – yes, oh yes –for training apprentices. The money to train apprentice bricklayers comes from putting one penny on the brick and two penny per square metre on plasterboard for apprentice plasterboard installers. So instead of sending out 36,500 levy forms to count every penny paid out, send out a handful of forms to the prime cost manufacturers. Just choose the key products and everyone pays the levy in the prime cost price.

The CITB is hamstrung by rows about getting the levy. We can stop that distraction in an instant. The CITB is a perfect vehicle for world-beating training. The idea 50 years ago was brilliant. It needs money without controversy.  Come on, CITB – let’s get weaving and thatching and pipe laying and so much more besides.

Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple