Construction groups cautiously praise report revealing £17.8m allocated mostly to small firms, as under-fire training body faces vote on its future

Young apprentices

Source: Alamy

Industry groups have given a cautious welcome to details of how some of the money the under-fire CITB collects through its annual levy has been spent.

The clamour from housebuilders and contractors for the training body to be reformed has intensified in recent weeks. The boss of the country’s biggest contractor, Balfour Beatty, questioned its very survival ahead of its triennial consensus vote this month, where 14 trade bodies and 6,000 non-affiliated construction companies vote on whether the organisation can continue collecting the training levy from them.

Balfour Beatty’s Leo Quinn said: “We are voting in the dark, recommitting to a levy – and thus to an organisation – whose potential ongoing failure would have a major impact on future economic growth.”

And this week Redrow chief executive John Tutte, although stopping short of saying the body needed to be scrapped, said there was “no doubt the CITB has not been delivering”, adding that he had “concerns about its direction and there needed to be change”.

In its report the CITB said 303 projects in England, Scotland and Wales had benefited from funding of £17.8m between September 2015 and December 2016.

Micro and small firms made up the majority (231) of those receiving funds, followed by construction federations (38), large employers (18), CITB-funded training groups (nine), medium-sized employers (six) and one trade union.

Industry groups, which have been critical of the CITB’s slow pace towards reform, issued cautious statements about the report.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC), which had previously called on the CITB to be “much more strategic, industry-led and accountable”, said the report was “a useful step in demonstrating greater transparency with respect to the investments made by CITB which is welcomed by CLC.

“CLC expects much more of the same from a reformed CITB after the conclusion of the review,” it added.

The Home Builders Federation said it welcomed money being allocated for specific projects that helped increase industry skills capacity, but its concerns about the CITB’s future remained.

“The current discussions about reform of the CITB raise much bigger issues, however, and what we want to see is an overall package of measures the housebuilding industry can have full confidence will deliver its needs and its fair share of resources to help it recruit and train the people required,” it said.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Willmott Dixon said the CITB’s report underlined its “key role [in] supporting micro and small firms in our industry in areas like health and safety training and skills development that they might not be able to fund themselves”.

“This support remains a vital part of our industry’s future and the report is a timely reminder of the CITB’s outputs,” he added.

Steve Radley, the CITB’s director of policy, said the group’s report showed how levy payers’ money “was having a positive impact on our industry, including on many small firms”.

“It shows that CITB funding helps people gain qualifications, reduce skills gaps and improve staff morale. For employers it has encouraged innovation and facilitated new partnerships, as well as improving perceptions of construction as a career,” he said.

“We will continue to work closely with our industry to ensure that funding is targeted at its priorities and delivers the outcomes it needs.”

Voting on the triennial consensus ends on 29 September, with an announcement on the outcome in November.

What the CITB’s critics have been saying …

The CITB has been warned to implement major changes – or risk not being able to survive. In a statement, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) said that it “recognises the need for a national organisation supporting the delivery of construction skills, but is also clear that the current status quo is unsustainable”.

Major changes are needed, warned the CLC, which includes the likes of Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme, Crest Nicholson’s boss Stephen Stone, and Morrisroe Group founder Brian Morrisroe.

It said: “The CITB must be much more strategic, industry-led and accountable,” and claimed it would be “supportive of a reformed CITB on the basis that an appropriate governance structure is implemented as part of the proposed reforms”.

Trade unions have said they share the concerns, with Unite having described the governance structure of the CITB as “not fit for purpose” with a board that “does not possess the experience and knowledge to effectively champion apprenticeship standards, training and the skills requirement needed in the industry.”

However, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail warned against “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. She said: “The CITB is not perfect but, if it was to disappear, the effect on construction would be devastating.”

“If the CITB is going to be able to cope with the challenges that the industry faces in the coming years, it needs to be radically reformed.”

The Home Builders Federation warned: “Sections of the housebuilding industry have been frustrated with CITB’s performance in recent years and we need to ensure that whatever emerges from this process better enables housebuilders to train the people it needs to deliver the homes of the future.”