Move is part of a push to democratise CITB

The group of industry leaders charged with reforming the CITB levy will consider a radical push to democratise it, James Wates, chairman of the CITB has indicated.

In an exclusive interview with Building, the chairman said the levy working party, set up to consider the future of the industry’s training levy, will consider giving levy-paying
firms a vote.

Currently CITB member federations consult employers to gauge their support for the levy but rarely conduct a vote.

In a survey by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) in March, 77% of engineers said they supported the levy system, in an unusual vote put to levy payers.
Wates said: “I think [giving federation members a vote] is something for the levy working party - they will look at this.”

But Wates said he was personally not in favour of extending votes to levy payers. He added it was not up to the CITB to specify how federations determine members’ support.

The industry grandee, who is also deputy chair of his family’s Wates Group, also sought to talk down suggestions that a row had led to the CITB cutting ties with the industry’s skills card scheme.

Last week Building revealed the CITB - which administers the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), used by more than 1.6 million workers - has put its contract on notice.

Wates said: “I think there was a lot of heat and light two to four years ago but really over the last period it’s been about delivering the cards the industry requires.

“This decision was part of our strategic review of the organisation and we felt it doesn’t necessarily fit with what we want to do going forward.”

Since becoming chairman last February, Wates has overseen a period of financial recovery at the CITB, after it racked up a deficit of £24.7m during the recession.

Earlier this year the organisation announced it was back in the black and is making £25m of new training cash available - which will partly be used to fund a 12% bonus on training grants for the next three years from 1 August.

But Wates will not accept any plaudits for the CITB’s return to financial good health. He said: “Essentially there have been three lines on a graph going in different directions during the past year - levy income has increased as we’ve cut our costs and demand for grants has gone down.

“But as an organisation we don’t want to run at a surplus. Our message to the industry is to come and claim the grants.”

He acknowledged the CITB can do more to respond to the needs of the industry but argued the organisation has become more customer-focused over the course of his eight-year involvement.

“We have more of a business mentality. We recognise that we have customers and they have a choice.”

Wates also signalled the industry can expect a number of major contractors to sign up to the government’s drive to create 50,000 apprenticeships, as announced in the Budget.

Wates said: “The UK contractors who I can speak for are looking very very strongly at how they can engage more in apprenticeships.”