Is the CITB fit for purpose for the 21st Century?

Well, what a grand title and a question that is clearly all too easy to answer. No it is not! Do not just take my word for it. Look at the turmoil that is taking place within the organisation as they attempt to remodel themselves to retain their right to collect their tax.

Frustration over the CITB grant system

Over a year ago the PCA kicked off when we became totally frustrated by the changes imposed by CITB on the grants schemes. I personally further kicked off with a blog from a couple of weeks ago titled: ‘Is CITB delivering a valuable service‘. The slashing of the funds available for attending short duration courses, the reductions in funding for Specialist Apprentice Schemes and the need for us to approve a “standard” for courses that are unique to PCA all happened without real consultation. In addition, it became a requirement for us to register with them as a trainer (they were going to charge for this but dropped the idea for now) and then do all the administration needed to allow companies to get a £30 attendance grant – for attending a three-day course!!!

We did get a positive response from CITB

Now after a bit of letter writing we did get a very positive response from the then Chairman. James Wates CBE set a train of events in place that resulted in CITB seconding a member of their team to the PCA for two days a week. The agreed aim of this secondment was to work together to assess the impact of the changes to CITB policy on members of the PCA.

As PCA are similar to many other specialist Trade Associations, the idea was that the study and its findings would have further value in informing the impact across much of the specialist construction sectors.

So in the summer of 2018 Angus from CITB began interviewing members, visiting companies and attending meetings. Progress seemed rapid and we were very optimistic of a constructive outcome.  Then it all got a lot slower!

The CITB ‘lead balloon’ – the report

A report landed in our inbox late last year. It ignored the more challenging findings of the investigation but said that it would all be OK because a new fund is available that we can all get stuck into. The document read like something a lawyer might agree to. Bland, featureless, certainly not dishonest but it skipped over the central issues. Like painting the house magnolia and fitting 40W light bulbs when what was required is illumination, transparency and contrast.

Bland and featureless – the PCA feedback to CITB

We met with CITB and expressed our unhappiness with this bland and featureless draft report and very reassuringly they agreed to redraft it. Quite amazingly a second draft arrived on my desk within minutes of me telling them I was bored with waiting and would be publishing our own version of events.

I have read the draft report today and though it now gets to the issue, one fact jumps off the page. According to their own figures taken from a sample of PCA members “the amount of grant each company is getting is greatly reduced with the amount claimed in 2018-19. This works out to be 22% of the 17-18 claim amount and 39% of the 16-17 amount (using the currently available figures)” These numbers need context so we will publish the full report later in the week.

Is CITB fit for purpose?

So is CITB fit for purpose for 2020 and beyond. In my opinion, NO and in its present form and with its current mandate, it can never be!

It was a construct of another time. The needs of the construction industry, government and workers were very different in 1964. Technology, procurement, people and the law have all caught up with CITB. The companies caught in its web are the highly visible and well organised businesses that understand the need for training. They do not need a middle man who takes their money sometimes unwillingly only to tell them how they can spend it.

In what world is it a good idea to raise a tax, spend some of that money on administration, collection and policy creation and then only be able to pay back a portion of what was collected? Surely using CITB in its current form to facilitate government policy cannot be right! For me, taking cash from SME’s to help companies build houses so they can meet government targets for new homes is just robbery. I would also question how many levy paying builders and specialist trades condone the use of their money and taxes to drive forward “offsite manufacturing” and facilitate infrastructure projects.

Can CITB evolve?

Cutting the CITB a little slack, they can never really be expected to lead the rapidly evolving market. They can only ever be reactive and this just is not very 21st Century. It means they will always struggle to provide levy paying firms what they need for the future.

When we consider the law, the requirements of employers, the need train and retain increasingly skilled people, the demands of our clients and the increasing skills rich environment; are these not the natural drivers of training rather than (I am sorry to say) the slow-moving leviathan from the 60’s?

A tax levied by an unaccountable non-governmental organisation that only ever gets paid by firms that are either too big to hide or too good to need it has got to be nuts!

Could a CITB change of direction be the answer?

Why not redirect CITB to the enforcement of policy rather than the facilitation of it. Use what is left in the bank to make life difficult for those that operate beyond and outside the law. For example, why can’t the CITB use their monies to target companies that avoid VAT, employ casuals and avoiding PAYE and Ni. In addition, they could hunt down those who fail to observe even basic Health and Safety law and ignore the requirements of Building Control.

Focus on these companies that despite 55 years of CITB, have never trained anyone and who diminish the reputation of the construction sector. In my opinion, these should be the targets for CITB. Not the members of the PCA who to a man and woman have demonstrated a willingness to invest in training and who daily open themselves up to external scrutiny.

My ‘humble’ summarised  view

It is my view that CITB is actively diminishing the amount of money being spent on training personnel in the specialist construction sectors. How can they possibly argue otherwise?!?

So I put this to the good people of the CITB. Stop trying to reinvent yourselves in the vain hope that the old ways of doing things can be relevant. Step back and consider the bigger picture…the old model just doesn’t work anymore!

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