Q&A: What is happening at the CITB?

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

A Q&A briefing on what's happening at the Construction Industry Training Board, based in west Norfolk.

What is the CITB and what does it do?

The Construction Industry Training Board is a statutory organisation responsible for training within the industry, and is responsible for working with companies to make sure the workforce is safe, professional and fully qualified.

It is funded by a levy which all construction employers pay. The CITB uses the money to deliver direct training courses at the National Construction College at Bircham Newton, where it also has its head office.

Some 575 of the CITB's 1,322 staff are based at the 45-acre Norfolk site, which is a former RAF base.

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What's happening at the CITB?

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The CITB – the Construction Industry Training Board – revealed its Vision 2020: The Future CITB report on Wednesday, which outlines how it aims to change over the next three years.

In it, the training body says it wants to become 'a simpler, more streamlined organisation', in response to concerns raised by the industry that funds it and the government.

The changes were explained to staff at a series of meetings on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Jobs could be at risk as construction body eyes up move out of West NorfolkWhat's going to change?

The CITB is aiming to scale back what it offers to the industry – a change to what its chairman James Wates describes as 'serving as the conductor of the orchestra, not playing every instrument'.

To do that, it wants to move its head office from Bircham Newton in Norfolk to Peterborough, and will stop delivering training at the National Construction College.

It will also outsource many of its back-office functions – such as HR, finance, marketing and estates management – which are currently done at Bircham Newton.

Once the changes have been completed, the CITB says that two-thirds of its staff will be mobile 'to be closer to CITB's customers' while the remaining third will be based in Peterborough. It will retain smaller offices in London, Scotland and Wales.

It will also stop administering card schemes, through which construction workers can become accredited for specialist areas such as scaffolding.

What will that mean for Norfolk?

The move from the Bircham Newton base will mean an uncertain time for the 575 staff based there.

The head office has already been slimmed down over the past year - last February the CITB said there were 680 staff at the site.

CITB chief executive Sarah Beale told this newspaper it was 'too soon' to begin talking about job losses, but the training body's aim to move 50 miles west to Peterborough is unlikely to suit all staff, and the outsourcing of back-office functions will also put jobs at risk.

The CITB says it is looking for a buyer for the National Construction College, while North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham has urged any new owner to keep on all the training staff.

Looking at the wider picture, losing the head office of a national provider will be seen as a blow to Norfolk, and concerns have already been raised at what will happen to such an extensive and specialist site if it is not taken on by a new owner.

Has this all been decided already?

The launch of the Vision 2020 report was the CITB announcing to its staff and the industry what it hopes to achieve over the next three years. But no formal proposals have been tabled and, as a result, no consultation period has begun.

The individual parts of the outline plan will be brought forward between now and 2020, when those who are directly affected will go through consultation.

However, chief executive Sarah Beales has acknowledged that because of the scale of the changes, all staff will be affected in some way.

What do people think of it?

The response from unions and MPs has been one of anger.

The union Unite described the changes as a 'hammer blow' to the construction industry and to Norfolk, arguing that they come at a time when construction is already facing a skills crisis.

Sir Henry Bellingham has spoken out against the plans, accusing the CITB's management of taking 'ill-thought-out and retrograde decisions' which could put the entire future of the organisation at risk.

What will this mean for the construction industry?

The industry is in the grip of a well-documented skills shortage, with companies across the country struggling to find the trained workers they need to meet demand, particularly for residential housing.

Employers had been unhappy at the consistency of training offered by the CITB, and its failure to respond to changes within the industry – for example, the need for training in specialist areas.

While the amount of training on offer will not fall - other providers will be commissioned by the CITB to deliver the training - the concern will be that upheaval and uncertainty could cause disruption for employers or put people off joining the construction industry.

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