In a surprise U-turn, CITB chairman Peter Lauener has decided not to sell the National Construction Colleges at Bircham Newton in Norfolk and Inchinnan in Glasgow.
Sale discussions with a training provider will continue for Erith and the NCC Midlands training facility has already been sold to Walsall College. However, the inability to find suitable buyers for Bircham Newton and Inchinnan means that the CITB will now stay in the business of training after all.
This represents a remarkable U-turn from the policy that has been in progress since publication of the transformative Vision 2020 strategy in 2017.
CITB had agreed a deal in principal in February 2020 to sell Bircham Newton – officially National Construction College East – to West Suffolk College. Completion of the deal had been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic but the industry had been led to expect that finalisation of the sale was imminent.
The board said that a condition of any sale was the assurance that employers would continue to have training provision that was not readily available in the wider training market. However, it has not been possible to find suitable buyers for all the training businesses, it said, particularly for specialist trades.
Peter Lauener, chair of CITB’s board, said: “In 2017 the government and construction industry were clear that reform of CITB had to be delivered. We committed to delivering that change while making sure that industry did not lose training capacity, especially in specialist areas, in cases where it was not possible to find a new training provider.
“The Vision 2020 reforms, and other changes made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, have successfully realigned our business to make us better able to support employers investing in skills. CITB operates colleges which provide vital and valued training where we have not been able to find suitable buyers that could continue to deliver the scope of high quality training the industry needs. The continuing uncertainty is damaging for employers who need to be sure they can get their staff trained, as well as for CITB colleagues who have supported their customers and learners throughout.
“The right course of action to support industry now is to provide stability and assurance. The board has therefore decided to retain NCC East and NCC Scotland. This decision gives employers and CITB colleagues confidence and clarity and enables us to plan for the future, having realised the core ambitions of reform. We will of course keep these businesses under close review as we do for every aspect of our operation and this might lead in due course to alterations in our approach to NCC but we have no plans at present to return to market.”
CITB is gradually reopening the National Construction Colleges (NCCs) in England as per government guidelines, with apprentices being welcomed back from the week beginning 22 March. NCC Scotland remains closed for face-to-face learning though the intention is to reopen in April.
There is no suggestions at this stage that CITB wants to take back responsibility for construction industry qualifications and skills cards. Since the sale of Cskills Awards to NOCN (previously the National Open College Network) as part of the reform process, CITB no longer awards certificates or qualifications.
However, The Construction Index understands that retaining ownership of Bircham Newton and Inchinnan is not just a temporary suspension of the sale process but an absolute volte face of policy and a return to its core puporse of providing training.
The Unite union welcome the U-turn but called for a further re-think. Regional co-ordinating officer Mark Robinson said: “The decision to retain the national construction colleges is excellent news for the workers employed by the CITB but also for the whole construction industry, who rely on the unique specialised training that only the construction colleges provide.
“This announcement should secure the future of the national construction colleges for many years.
“However, selling the colleges was a major plank of the CITB’s 2020 Vision and this has completely failed. Our members have had their lives put on hold for three and a half years, not knowing who their employer would be, or if they even would have a job.
“The CITB’s board has invested heavily in a new head office in Peterborough, resulting in hundreds of workers being made redundant. Outsourced providers have contributed to massive failings in the payroll system, leaving hundreds of CITB employees owing large amounts of money and causing huge distress.
“The reputational damage that the CITB has suffered across the entire construction industry has been immense.
“Unite warned at the outset that the CITB’s restructure plans were ill thought out and unrealistic, the union takes little satisfaction in those fears being entirely correct.
“The CITB’s board need to fundamentally rethink how it treats its staff and its relationship with industry. The decision on the construction colleges must be the start of that process.
“Investment is urgently needed in products, infrastructure and most importantly its employees, in order to rebuild its reputation with its staff and industry alike.”