The exposé has left some safety managers saying that the credibility of the entire Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) is in tatters.
While long-running problems with forged CSCS cards have largely been addressed in recent years by smart card technology, it has now been confirmed beyond doubt that there are official CITB-approved test centres that are perpetrating fraud on a mass scale by helping candidates with their tests and/or actually completing tests on their behalf to enable them to guarantee success.
BBC television’s Newsnight programme used hidden cameras to reveal how the scam worked and indicated that the target market for the corrupt test centres is newly-arrived immigrants, predominantly eastern European, who lack the English language competence to understand the test questions. It exposed three separate test centres.
CSCS cards are required by most major contractors and on most major construction sites. They are not a legal requirement but are the industry’s own attempt to improve site safety. Other skills cards are available to demonstrate competence in certain trades but the CSCS scheme, managed by the Construction Industry Training Board and a special industry committee, have become the dominant scheme, with approximately two million CSCS cards in circulation.
The BBC has quoted Willmott Dixon head of safety Mark French saying: "As an industry, we've set our stall on the CSCS card being the minimum benchmark to accept workers on to our sites. If these people aren't competent workers, we'll end up with guys prepared to take risks. It's going to take a long time for us to get over this as an industry. We'll probably never identify the true number working with cards that aren't bona fide."
Health, safety and environmental manager Alistair Donaghey went further, saying: "I'll never trust the scheme again."
Responding to the Newsnight report, which aired on 21st October 2015, CITB delivery and customer engagement director Carl Rhymer said: “CITB is fully aware of the problem card fraud poses to the UK construction industry, which is why we have taken a series of measures to tackle this head-on.
“In 2014, CITB’s executive team doubled our spend on fraud investigations in July 2014, which has led to five internet testing centres being shut down – with eight other centres under investigation.
“We suspended the contract for WEP Testing Centre, which featured on Newsnight, in August 2015 and further to subsequent investigations, we have suspended another centre that we believe to be connected today.
“We actively work with CSCS to revoke fraudulent cards wherever they are found, which has in some cases helped trigger investigations into suspect testing centres.
“In addition, we are accelerating our plans to install mandatory CCTV in all testing centres to monitor footage for signs of fraudulent activity, and have launched a series of spot-checks on test centres to act as a deterrent.
“Our intelligence suggests card fraud is focussed in a small minority of the 544 testing centres across the country – and we are working hard alongside partners including the Health & Safety Executive and the National Crime Agency to help stamp out this problem.”
The Newsnight report is available to view for a limited time on BBC iPlayer atwww.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mk25