CITB boss says move out of Norfolk is necessary to secure its future - and job loss details could come in new year

Sarah Beale, chief executive of the Construction Industry Training Board, based at Bircham Newton. P

Sarah Beale, chief executive of the Construction Industry Training Board, based at Bircham Newton. Picture: Jeff Russell Photography. - Credit: Archant

The boss of the Construction Industry Training Board has insisted its departure from west Norfolk is a necessary step to secure its future.

The cranes at the CITB training centre at Bircham Newton are a familiar sight on the skyline. Pictur

The cranes at the CITB training centre at Bircham Newton are a familiar sight on the skyline. Picture: Matthew Usher . - Credit: Matthew Usher

The training body has announced plans to leave its Bircham Newton base, moving head office to Peterborough, stop direct training at the National Construction College and outsource a host of back-office services.

The move has sparked fierce criticism from North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, and the workers' union Unite, which said it would lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs.

READ MORE: MP criticises CITB management for 'lack of vision and a lack of competence' over Peterborough move plans

But Sarah Beale, CITB chief executive, said the changes were in response to the industry funding it, which voted to renew the body's three-year mandate in September on condition of reform. Employers have been asking for better value for money, as the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April means construction firms now pay a double charge, and the changes will effectively see the CITB become a commissioning body for training.

'Moving away from direct training is something we've been asked to do by government and by industry,' said Ms Beale.

'By no means are we saying that the training facilities and services [at Bircham Newton] are anything other than good – it's just not in our plan.'

READ MORE: Business briefing - what's happening at the CITB?

It was 'too soon' to say how many jobs could be lost, given that each individual part of the proposals will be consulted on as it happens, but said job-loss estimates could be provided from January.

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Ms Beale said the proposal to leave Bircham Newton had not been taken lightly and that, having been with the organisation 13 years, she knew personally many of the workers who would be affected.

Pressed on the CITB's chances of continuing beyond its current three-year term, Ms Beale said: 'Providing we respond to the industry and government's clear demands, I'm extremely optimistic about the future.'

She said the CITB was keen to work with local authorities and MPs to put together a development plan for the 45-acre site, and confirmed it would be seeking a new owner for the National Construction College - facilities which have been described as 'world class'.

'We are very optimistic about the opportunity to work with private training providers interested in taking on the training facilities.

'We are working very hard with potential purchasers of the training facilities so that we can retain them for the industry and people who are affected by [the changes],' she said, adding that no formal expressions of interest have yet been made.

Sir Henry has set two 'red lines' in his opposition to the CITB's restructure: that the National Construction College must be taken on by a new provider, and that its head office is retained at Bircham Newton.

He said: 'I do entirely understand the clear demand from the construction industry who, after all pay the CITB's levy, for the CITB to give up direct training. However, the facilities at Bircham Newton are world-class, and it is absolutely essential that the CITB work with new potential providers to ensure that they keep existing training staff at Bircham.'

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss has also signalled her support for the site, adding: 'I am fully supporting Sir Henry Bellingham's campaign – we need to build more houses, industry needs more factories and warehouses, and we need the necessary skills to deliver this. The site at Bircham Newton has the capability to provide this training.'