Government support will depend on the trade body’s pursuit of reform, ministers say in a letter to James Wates

The government has backed the CITB, but also warned that in exchange for its continued support the trade body must continue its reform programme.

In a letter to CITB chairman James Wates, Skills Minister Anne Milton, Housing Minister Alok Sharma (pictured), and Industrial Strategy Minister Lord Prior said they believed the organisation had an important role to play in terms of encouraging the development of a skilled workforce. They also recognised and supported the CITB’s levy-raising powers, and urged the industry to do the same.

However the trio warned that continuing government support for the organisation was dependent on its pursuit of reform.  

“We also have to acknowledge…concern across the industry about the effectiveness, efficiency and responsiveness of the CITB,” they wrote.

“The CITB [is] now embarking on a major reform programme to reduce the size of the organisation and make it more focused on those aspects of the skills agenda where there is clear market failure, or where a collective approach to training can deliver real benefits to employers, including small businesses.

“We support the direction of these reforms, and we encourage you to continue to develop and refine them in discussion with the industry and government.”

Last year the CITB faced a barrage of criticism from industry figures, angered at the prospect of having to pay the organisation’s levy, as well as the government’s apprenticeship levy. They also bemoaned the lack of leadership.

Last week the CITB announced that interim chief executive Sarah Beale was taking on the job permanently, six months after the resignation of her predecessor, Adrian Belton.

Responding to the minister’s letter, Wates said he appreciated the government’s recognition that the CITB should be retained, “provided industry supports it in the Consensus process this summer.

“The CITB has made great efforts in recent months to agree with industry the steps it needs to take to improve its effectiveness, efficiency, and responsiveness, and has started to implement these changes.

“Rest assured that the CITB has listened – and will continue to listen – to concerns of industry.  I have no doubt that the ITB Review when published will provide further insights to guide CITB’s evolution.

“I hope that the construction sector is able to rally behind a reformed CITB as one aspect of broader change that needs to take place to modernise and meet the GB’s construction needs in the future.”

The CITB launched a formal consensus period earlier this month on its plans to cut its levy rate from its present 0.5% to 0.35% PAYE, with the subcontractor NET CIS rate staying the same at 1.25%. The consensus period will finish at the end of September, when the result will be ratified by the government.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said that most people agreed that the CITB “had lost its way”, but said scrapping it all together would only make the construction skills crisis worse.

“What we now want to see is for the CITB leadership to embrace a culture of change until we’ve reformed the organisation from head to toe.”

Describing the CITB’s structure as “not fit-for-purpose” Berry said both its board and council did not reflect the bulk of companies across the industry, who were SMEs.

“We recognise and support the need for a streamlined board of competencies, but the CITB will continue to flounder until it is properly representative.

“For too long, major contractors have called the shots and although they have an important role to play, their role has been inflated – especially when you consider that it’s the small firms that carry out the bulk of the training in our industry.”