A time to consult

Richard Catt explains why CFA members have a stake in the CITB’s period of consensus

IN recent articles, I mentioned the CITB is entering a period of consensus. Simply put, every three years as an industry training board, CITB is asked by the secretary of state to show that it has continued support from the construction industry.

Government can then authorise CITB to collect a construction levy from employers and invest it in the training that the industry needs.

As an active trade association, CFA members have a vote. Why should we care? How does it affect us? you might still reasonably ask.

If you pay the CITB levy, you currently pay 0.5% on PAYE employees and 1.25% on your NET CIS workforce.

In broad terms, in 2015 CITB collected about £182m in levy from the construction industry, including therefore companies involved in flooring and CFA members.

To give some balance, they paid out about £137m in grants alone during that same period. For instance, many colleges that deliver apprenticeships have historically worked with CITB as a managing agency and funding for the apprentices that fill those courses has also come through CITB.

Therefore, the opportunity and significance of approving what they collect and influencing and improving what they deliver going forward is brought into sharp focus by that overview alone.

But even if you don’t pay the levy, and many in our industry don’t, I think it’s important that construction and contract flooring as a sector, has a ‘body’ that represents us at the highest level for matters relating to training, qualifications and standards.

The many thousands of NVQs L2 qualifications needed for CSCS cards have often been obtained with support from CITB and CITB also essentially runs the administration of CSCS.

A branch of CITB (CSkills awards) reviews portfolios and decides whether the qualification can be awarded.

CITB is currently the custodians of our apprenticeship, NVQ & SVQ standards, helping us review them periodically, as well as one of the main providers of research and evidence to demonstrate the needs of industry. This is a top level (and not intended to be exhaustive) list of where I feel CITB has and can still add value in the future.

Put another way, pull the plug on all of that without a plan ‘B’ and frankly it would be chaos. On its own, that’s not a strong argument to carry on supporting something if it were not effective in delivery (and many argue CITB hasn’t been in the past) but hopefully that brief synopsis of some of the areas of activity of CITB demonstrates why consensus is important.

A rare opportunity to influence. As I’ve stated before, my instinct is that CITB should survive. But that isn’t to say that it should do so without reform and I’ll come to that again in a moment, because I see significant need and evidence for taking place.

But first, let’s focus on the consensus process.

The consensus process
Consensus describes the process CITB goes through to achieve authorisation from government to collect the levy and essentially the first stage is for them to set out under what terms they propose to do this going forward and then what they intend to do with the funds they generate.

There’s opportunity to feedback on these two elements but the culmination of this process is a vote that takes place among a group of what are known as the consensus federations, plus a group of employers who aren’t aligned to federation or association.

For the 2017 consensus process, the consensus federations include organisations such as the Federation of Master Builders and our own Build UK.

The employers’ group is 6,000 this time (it was about 2,000 in 2014) and both these groups will ultimately be asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in terms of supporting CITB in continuing to collect the levy.

Those consensus organisations such as Build UK, which are also umbrella bodies, act as a funnel back to CITB for the consensus process.

All CFA members can provide feedback and comment during the consultation, but only levy paying CFA members will be invited to vote.

The vote will take place in September and will shape the future of CITB and what it offers. One might argue that if consensus isn’t achieved, CITB will effectively cease to be able to effectively operate.  Quite a responsibility and opportunity but your voice is assured through CFA membership.

CITB’s offer going forward
What the CITB is proposing will unfold over the coming weeks and months. Both CITB and Build UK will be distributing support material and we will in turn update members with key facts as time moves towards the final vote.

Following this period of consultation and information sharing, the final offer from CITB will be made clear in June. Around 4 July, we’ll be circulating a survey that will close on 4 September and shortly after that the vote will take place.

So what do we know to date about what CITB proposes to offer?
It’s clear the levy order is being reduced from 0.5% to 0.35% on PAYE employees. NET CIS workforce payments will remain at 1.25%. So, with that calculation and collected as before, they’ll create the levy ‘pot’ from which they’ll offer funding and support.

But the equally interesting debate is what are they suggesting they will be doing with it?

The fact is we don’t know yet because as described above that is what will unfold over the coming months.

Given that I have attended many meetings and read briefing documents over a long period I’d suggest we expect some more change.

I think the emphasis for CITB will move away from delivery towards supporting industry in promoting careers and acting more as a shop front for construction through digital portals such as Go Construct (https://www.goconstruct.org/).

I think they’re likely to retain their interest in standards and qualifications as demonstrated by the support we’ve seen evident in developing the new Trailblazer apprenticeship standard for flooring.

Whilst I suspect they’ll be less involved in direct delivery of training, they’ll remain active in training and development in a broader sense acting as facilitators and working to increase provision where it’s required and needed.

Identifying need will perhaps become an even larger part of what it does. CITB has always been known for its research and it seems clear that continuing to act as a data source for industry is a role it will want to continue to fulfil.

If my interpretation (and in some cases predictions) come to fruition, the main source of funding for apprenticeships will, going forward, come from the new apprenticeship levy and the skills funding agency, which hopefully provides opportunity for CFA members to obtain an equal share of funding if they take on an apprentice.

But while I’m gazing into my crystal ball, remember my prediction from previous articles that what is likely to be available to an employer to support an apprentice will be significantly less than what is currently on offer through CITB if you’re a levy payer.

For 16-19-year-olds, the college package will probably be funded but it seems unlikely much more will be available to contribute towards other costs such as travel, accommodation and wages.

Overall, I suspect the CITB model is moving from a levy in-grant out approach, to a levy in-skills out approach and for those who’ve paid the levy, that might be a bitter pill to swallow as they’re likely to see less coming back as direct grants.

But from another perspective, which is probably easier to accept for the approximately 65% of the flooring industry who don’t pay the levy, if CITB delivers on its promises, the whole industry should in the long-term feel benefit from increased opportunity and more access to skills training going forward.

I suggest we shape CITB through the consensus process and at all costs avoid the recent trend of protest votes. The fact is, as far as I can tell, nobody has a plan B.

As CFA members, if you’d like to attend a short briefing on the consensus process, please put Wednesday 24 May in your diary – it’s the CFA’s AGM.

Sarah Garry from Build UK will be attending to update on the process and answer questions on the consensus process.

Open to members-only the AGM is being held at the King Richard III visitor centre in Leicester, commencing at 1.30pm. Full details will be included in every email update from the CFA running up until the AGM and information is also available from the CFA offices through the contact details below.
0115 9411126
Richard Catt is ceo of the CFA