“We need to be more flexible”, says CITB-ConstructionSkills
CITB-ConstructionSkills has pledged to review the courses it funds and get better at meeting the industry's needs, following the news that the government threat of abolition or restructuring has been lifted.
The industry training board and sector skills council, chaired by CIOB president James Wates, has been reprieved from the government's “bonfire of the quangos”, along with the engineering and film training boards.
A spokesperson for CITB-ConstructionSkills said: “The CITB board is looking at how we can generate additional funds to pass on to employers, and how to invest in a wider range of skills and training activities.
'Three years of recession is a long time, and the industry has changed significantly, for instance on the carbon agenda and life-long learning. So we need more flexibility to continue to meet the industry's needs.”
CITB-ConstructionSkills is also awaiting feedback on the grant/levy system from the 14 “consensus” federations that represent employers across the industry - including the FMB, NSCC, CECA and UKCG.
The federations are asked for their views every year, but a positive result in the current consultation is required before parliament will be debate the “levy order” that gives the CITB the statutory right to collect the levy.
Next week, the CECA is planning to publish the results of its member consultation. The FMB said it had no plans to publish its results, but that there was “room for improvement” in the levy system.
Meanwhile, CITB-ConstructionSkills says that the 1900 firms in its annual Employer Tracking Survey expressed 69% approval of the levy in 2010, a figure that has remained constant since 2007.
In response to this week's announcement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, SMEs expressed both support and criticism for the training body.
Malcolm Clarke MCIOB, managing director of Baxall Construction, a Kent-based CIOB training partner, backed the government's decision. “Without CITB and the levy, there would be very little training going on. Unfortunately, people take the short-term view, and the grant/levy structure makes sure that people are doing some training.”
However, Clarke criticised the complex rules surrounding the collection of levy from sub-contractors. “We pay a 1.5% levy on labour-only sub-contractors, but then the sub-contract companies are 'in scope' to the CITB and are charged as well – it's painful and that's what gets everyone going.
“With VAT, you fill in a simple form, saying what you pay and what you've been paid, and then the difference is to be paid or refunded. The CITB just takes from both sides, then worries about the corrections later.”
Baxall has recently decided not to collect the 1.5% levy from sub-contractors, instead reducing the contract sum at the outset. “But unless we can get it built in to the price, we'll lose money.”
Phil Wilding MCIOB, managing director of Winchester-based 25-strong contractor Wilding & Butler, felt that the £15-20 000 per annum his firm pays in CITB levy would be spent more efficiently by the contractor itself and the labour-only subcontractors in its supply chain.
“We don't get anything like that back in grant. The last time we engaged with ConstructionSkills, which admittedly was about five years ago, we had to jump through so many hoops to claim grant from them, we've very sceptical about getting involved again at all. The criteria for what you're entitled to seems to change every year – I suspect the system works better for larger firms who have a dedicated training manager.”
Wilding also pointed to a lack of clarity on which types of contract are considered “labour only”, triggering the requirement for main contractors to pay the training levy.