With Christmas eight days away, what better time could there be for the unions and CITB-ConstructionSkills to call a truce in their war for possession of the CSCS card scheme?
The conflict is over who should control the scheme’s finances. Industry trade bodies and the unions own the CSCS management board, but its finances are in the hands of the CITB. This is a pretty odd division of responsibilities – rather like two people trying to drive the same car, one of whom is blindfolded. The oddness was underlined this month when it emerged that the scheme was more than £5m in the red, a fact that came as a surprise to the scheme’s management. The news provoked a further split, with the unions accusing the CITB of a lack of transparency while the industry bodies praised it for nurturing the scheme and funding initiatives such as the CSCS call centre.
The issue over whether or not the CSCS scheme is making money is crucial to its future if, as has been suggested, the CITB must relinquish administrative control of the scheme to the CSCS board as soon as it starts to turn a profit. The potential revenue from the card scheme could be huge. However, along with administrative control, the CITB will lose its influence on how the CSCS’ money is distributed. That decision will fall to the CSCS board, which may well be the signal for another difference of opinion between conjoined twins.
The need for a speedy resolution of the struggle has been emphasised by signs that the scheme is stalling. The employers’ bodies on the CSCS board claim that more than 700,000 CSCS cards have been issued. Which is not the same as saying that 700,000 people own one – and indeed, the unions maintain that only 8.5% of craft workers on site have signed up. If you accept that one of the key purposes of the card is to provide a good basic level of safety on site, then the CSCS board must bring carpenters, plasterers, bricklayers and painters within the scheme as a matter of urgency; it does seem incredible that after 10 years, fewer than one in 10 of these people are members. And it must do more than it is doing now: the independent Bilborough report last month found that, at the current rate of take-up, it would be 30 years before the industry’s workers all carried cards.
There is a seasonal solution to the hostilities. The unions, the CITB and the employers could dissolve the mistrust between them by jointly agreeing to change the way the scheme is run. One solution would be to run the organisation as an independent, not-for-profit business with its own management structure responsible for all business decisions. Perhaps the way forward, then, is for those involved in the CSCS to make a new year’s resolution: to agree to work together to help create a well-trained, safety-conscious workforce for the benefit of all in construction. It is the season of goodwill, after all.
On the subject of goodwill, from everybody at Building we’d like to wish all our readers a happy Christmas and a prosperous and safe new year – we’re back on 7 January.
Andy Pearson, deputy editor