GCS latest: Vince Cable says addressing loss of skills from industry is his key priority

The loss of skills from the construction industry during the downturn has been a “horror story”, the business secretary Vince Cable has said.

Addressing the Government Construction Summit in London, Cable said improving training and apprenticeships in construction was his main priority for the sector through the government’s industrial strategy.

When asked what his main message to the construction industry was, Cable said: “I’d like the industry to start thinking five or ten years ahead […] If I was to pick one area as a key priority it would be skills - what could bring the sector’s recovery to a shuddering halt is a lack of skills.”

The construction industry has lost 350,000 people since its peak before the recession.

Cable admitted the government cut capital expenditure “too hard, too fast” after the financial crisis.

“We have rebuilt it but not enough.”

Cable said he now expects the construction industry to enjoy “a period of sustained growth and recovery”.

The other areas of focus through the industrial strategy are improving procurement, access to finance and the industry’s use of technology, including BIM.

Cable said he was “pleased” with the initial work of the Construction Leadership Council charged with implementing the strategy.

When asked, Cable did not say whether or not he supported the finding’s Sir John Armitt’s review of long-term infrastructure planning for shadow chancellor Ed Balls, but he said government infrastructure planning “is now more co-ordinated” following the appointment of Lord Deighton as Treasury commercial secretary.

Armitt’s review, published last September, recommended the setting up of an independent National Infrastructure Commission designed to assess and plan for the UK’s infrastructure needs.

Cable said: “I’ve invested political capital in getting the opposition on board with our infrastructure planning.

“Hopefully that will mean it will continue even if there’s a change of government.”

Andrew Wylie, chief executive of Costain, also called for long-term planning by the industry.

“Our infrastructure decisions will impact the second half of the 21st Century. If we think we can compete without HS2 or a world class hub airport we’re deluding ourselves.”

Wylie said he believes the construction industry “has the best opportunity in a generation to move forward” thanks to better collaboration with government.

CITB to dip into reserves to tackle skills gap

The industry’s training and skills body CITB has pledged to dip into its reserves over the next two years to pay more training grants and help the industry tackle it’s skills crisis.

The CITB’s new chief executive Adrian Belton told the Government Construction Summit in London that his two priorities on taking up the role were increasing training grants and simplifying the levy system.

Belton said: “I want to cycle more money into training.

“We will dip into our reserves this year and probably next so we’re giving the industry back more than we’re taking in levies.”

On the levy system, he said CITB will aim to “simplify” it over a “three year programme”, but was unable to provide any detail as the process has just begun.