As it happens, I have sympathy with many of his genuine concerns. There has been increasing pressure on young people to enter higher education, as well as the continuing problem of attracting apprentices of suitable quality. That is why the Construction Industry Training Board's positive image campaign over the past few years has tackled those issues by portraying the industry as go-ahead and progressive. The campaign has succeeded. There has been an increase in the number of people applying for training and that gives us more influence over the quality of those wishing to enter our industry.
It is true that colleges have a problem retaining lecturers, and some do leave for the commercial sector. This is not solely our problem, and it is not one which can easily be solved.
Mr Smith also has a fair point about the lack of direct employment for craft apprentices. The CITB has set in motion programmes to encourage engagement between main contractors and their supply chains. I hope that he would also agree that changes in qualification are appropriate. Apprentices should not be qualified without clear competency in the workplace. As for upskilling the workforce, there is certainly a tremendous job for the CITB and the industry to deliver this through on-site assessment and training, and the Construction Skills Certification Scheme is an important part of this.
The CITB has been in discussion with the British Association of Construction Heads to address these issues, and that is an important part of our dialogue with them.
Nobody would pretend that all is perfect. I have spoken and written frequently about the dangers facing the industry if firms leave training to others. The CITB helps to facilitate training, but it is up to employers to engage fully and that is what the grant structure exists to support. Thousands of firms already take advantage of it, but many more could do so.
Mr Smith criticises the CITB for being smug and complacent. That is not fair. The permanent staff work hard to implement the the board's policy, which is set by experienced practitioners. I am an active deputy chairman (and recently retired chairman) of a large construction company, and I would not willingly give up several days a week for the CITB's work if I did not feel it to be vital for the industry and very honourably performed by committed and professional staff.
Of course there are many problems. But the CITB exists to serve the industry, and the trade federations, which comprise most of its membership, are required every year to say if they support its continued existence. That is a level of public accountability far beyond that required of most other quasi public sector organisations, and I welcome it. Let's all work together to improve the industry's training. Nobody will do it for us.
Sir Michael Latham, chairman, CITB, London EC1.