The government's review team published the first part of its report a few weeks ago. This concluded that the CITB performs important functions on behalf of the industry and recommends that it should continue to do so. It adds that the CITB has significantly improved its performance and its standing with the industry in the five years since the last review.
The credit for that positive finding must go to the previous leadership of CITB, chairman Hugh Try and chief executive Peter Lobban, supported by a keen and hard-working staff. That said, there is always room for improvement – and the report gives some helpful signposts – but in general, it is a dispassionate survey by impartial researchers working for the Department for Education and Skills.
The CITB periodically receives letters of complaint from aggrieved levy payers, some of which say that a non-elected quango should not be able to raise a compulsory levy at all.
It is not widely realised that the CITB has greater accountability to the industry, to ministers and to parliament than probably any other quasi-industry, quasi-public body.
The first control is the industry itself. Every year, the CITB has to convince the firms that support it that it should continue in business. All the main federations and employers associations, or their collective groupings such as the National Specialist Contractors Council, have to be consulted about the rate of levy proposed for the following year.
If they refuse their consent, that would be the end of the CITB. This is not a formality. It is taken seriously by all concerned. Last year, the CITB also commissioned a survey from a sample of federated and non-federated firms. The federations said "yes, continue". The sample survey was also strongly positive.
Every year, either house could reject the order to allow the CITB’s levy and, in effect, wind it up
If the CITB fails to get a vote of confidence from half of the industry every year, it cannot ask ministers to place a levy order before parliament. Without a levy, all its training grants would be killed off as well. Only when the secretary of state for education is satisfied that industry consent has been given will they agree to draft the relevant order to allow for a compulsory levy and lay it before both houses of parliament.
This is no ordinary order. Most statutory instruments require no parliamentary approval.
They are made by the government, and take effect without troubling the legislature. Some are subject to the "negative resolution" procedure. These are laid before parliament but can be annulled by either house if a majority of members vote them down.
A few – including the CITB order – require the "affirmative resolution" procedure. They must be debated by both houses separately, with a specific vote at the end of the debate to approve them.
That must happen every year. Either house could reject the order and, in effect, wind up the CITB. As a non-departmental public body, the CITB is also answerable for its accounts to the National Audit Office and ultimately to parliament's public accounts committee.