Relations between training body and construction unions reach all-time low as row continues over CSCS card

Construction unions intend to take legal action against CITB-ConstructionSkills in an attempt to gain ownership and control of the CSCS skills card scheme.

Relations between the two sides are now so bad that the unions are considering whether to withdraw from the CITB completely.

UCATT general secretary Alan Ritchie said his executive council would discuss the matter this week. He said: “We need to assess the union’s links with the CSCS and look at our position.” He would not be drawn on details of potential legal action.

The scheme is currently controlled by a management board of union and employer representatives and administered by the CITB.

It is understood that a legal challenge would centre on the CITB’s ownership of the intellectual property rights of two aspects of the scheme: the CSCS health and safety testing and the CSCS smart card, which stores data on a card.

A senior industry source said that, as the tests generated a great deal of income, it was essential that ownership was resolved before the CSCS could move forward.

The source said: “The health and safety test and the ownership of the smart card is seen as vital – whoever owns the test basically will own CSCS. The unions will resist moving on to develop a business plan for CSCS until this issue is resolved.”

The source added that the unions wanted the CSCS owned and controlled by an independent board, run by the industry.

A statement from the CITB said: “CITB-ConstructionSkills is not aware of any challenge to the intellectual property rights of the health and safety test. Should one arise, we will deal with it as appropriate.”

The CITB has become increasingly frustrated as it feels that, having provided a great deal of support for CSCS for the past 10 years, it should take the business plan forward.

The row over which party owned the scheme originally broke out at the end of last year. The dispute got worse after an independent consultant’s report claimed identified a “culture of mistrust” between the management board of the scheme and the CITB. Leaked CITB accounts later revealed that the scheme had was more than £5m in the red. This deficit outraged the unions.

The CITB, which has a significant income from the safety tests, last month suspended several staff and conducted an investigation after irregularities in the financial reporting of the accounts emerged. The results showed that more than 35,000 tests paid for by firms in advance had not been carried out. The staff members were exonerated.