Jobs could be at risk as construction body eyes up move out of West Norfolk
- Credit: Matthew Usher
The future of hundreds of jobs in West Norfolk is in doubt after one of the area's biggest employers announced plans to relocate.
The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) wants to move its national head office from Bircham Newton to Peterborough as part of reforms to make itself 'a simpler, more streamlined organisation'.
The CITB is an industry-funded statutory body which provides training and grants for employers in the construction industry, employing 1,300 people across the country. Much of the training is delivered through the National Construction College on the West Norfolk site.
The plans have already been criticised by the MP for the area for being 'ill-thought-out, very poorly costed' and taking little account of the CITB's position within the community.
The proposals, outlined in Vision 2020 – The Future CITB, include:
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• An end to the CITB delivering direct training through the National Construction College at Bircham Newton;
• Relocating the Bircham Newton head office, where it employs 575 people, to Peterborough;
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• Basing one-third of the workforce at the Peterborough office, with the remaining two-thirds asked to be mobile;
• Small existing offices in London, Scotland and Wales delivering sector partnerships;
• Outsourcing corporate functions such as finance, HR and marketing;
• Stopping the administration of qualification card schemes.
A spokesman for the organisation said it was 'too soon' to talk about the number of jobs that could be at risk by a move to Peterborough. The proposals will be phased in over the next three years.
Sarah Beale, chief executive at CITB, said: 'Construction needs to modernise and CITB is no exception. We accept the challenges laid down by industry and Government and we will deliver a future-fit training body by adapting and updating our business model.
'Some really tough decisions could be made under these proposals but I'm confident in our commitment to becoming a more representative, accountable and reliable 'levy in, skills out' organisation. We now have a clearly defined path, and we see a bright future for a modern, engaged CITB.'
She added: 'I understand this strategy will bring about big changes to employees at CITB and we will be supporting our colleagues as much as possible throughout this process. These are tough calls to make, but needed if we are to meet the future demands and make the greatest impact to construction.
Henry Bellingham, North West Norfolk MP, has criticised the plans.
'It really does seem completely perverse that at a time when the industry needs more specialist skills and more innovative reskilling, the CITB are thinking of completely pulling out of Bircham,' he said.
'The current senior leadership of the CITB are in danger of taking ill-thought-out and retrograde decisions that could well damage the reputation of the CITB beyond repair.
'Indeed, I would go as far as saying that unless these proposals are reconsidered, the CITB could find itself being completely abolished.'
The CITB has been undergoing a restructure in the past two years in an effort to make itself more relevant and cost-effective for industry, including a 30% cut to its 1,400-strong national workforce last February.
It is funded by a levy on construction employers, who have raised concerns at being hit by a double whammy when the apprenticeship levy was introduced in April.
Earlier this month, CITB chairman James Wates said the organisation was moving away from a 'levy in, grant out' mentality, towards 'levy in, skills out'.
He said The Future CITB – Vision 2020 report would reflect its need to become 'smaller and more focused; serving as the conductor of the orchestra, not playing every instrument'.
Mr Bellingham has now called for a full consultation on the plans and wants Mr Wates and the CITB management to work with him and the relevant local authorities to devise a masterplan for the future of those parts of Bircham Newton which will no longer be needed.
He added: 'There could be a really good opportunity to put together a masterplan that maximises the potential of this really quite unique site. On the other hand, if we do not get this right, the site could become a rundown liability.'
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The Construction Industry Training Board was founded in Croydon in South London in 1964, and two years later opened its Bircham Newton Training Centre.
The Norfolk site was initially for plant training but was quickly expanded as the buildings on the former RAF site offered ideal undercover facilities for scaffolding and construction training. Further training centres soon followed in Glasgow, Birmingham and London.
The CITB received its powers from the 1964 Industrial Training Act, which gave the then-Ministry of Labour the powers to create training boards which would be responsible for training, set standards and provide advice to firms.
In 1982 the act was amended to give CITB its mandate to collect a levy from construction employers and to use this to support training and skills in construction.
But the board has come under pressure since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, which is applied across all sectors, as it led to employers paying two levies for the same training.