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Construction's Brexit moment? The future of the CITB

The referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU saw voters largely split into two camps. 

On one side there were those who, on the whole, believed in the status quo and that a vote for Brexit would be a leap in the dark. 

On the other side, there were those who wanted a break from the norm and felt a new strategy was needed to give the UK more autonomy over its affairs. 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Construction is currently in the midst of its own future-defining vote, its own Brexit moment you could say.

The skills shortages is often brought up as the biggest issue facing the construction industry and addressing it is undoubtedly crucial to the industry’s future success. 

Central to this is the future role of the CITB, and the question over whether its presence puts the sector in a stronger or weaker position to help overcome the skills challenge. 

Firms are currently voting on this, with results expected in November.

The parallels between the EU referendum and the construction industry’s consensus are clear.

In one camp, you have the voters who believe a decision to vote against the future of the CITB would be a leap in the dark, and a reformed CITB is what is needed if the construction industry has any chance of overcoming its skills challenges.

In the other camp you have those that feel the time for change is upon us, and the failings of the CITB have proven that firms are better placed to confront the skills challenges the construction sector faces.

Today saw arguably the most significant voice come out in opposition of the CITB, with Balfour Beatty chief executive Leo Quinn outlining the company’s intention to vote against the continued existence of the CITB.

Mr Quinn said the fact the sector was still suffering from skills shortages was proof enough that the CITB was not carrying out its pivotal role of creating the skills the industry needed.

As the CITB’s highest levy payer, the symbolism of such a public pronouncement from Balfour could have some influence. Think Boris Johnson joining the Leave campaign in February last year, months before the referendum vote.

Mr Quinn is not alone.

Speak to people at all levels of the industry and in some cases they say the same thing: ‘The CITB is broken, you had better get rid of it.’

But the CITB’s chief executive Sarah Beale and those in the opposing camp will disagree. If it’s broke, let’s fix it and reform is what is needed to save the CITB, they say. 

Those reforms are already in motion, with the CITB proposing a cutting of the levy rate, a reform of the grant system and an overhaul of its governance.

Speaking to Construction News today, Ms Beale said she remains confident the industry will vote to retain the body and says that the reforms put in place have already received positive feedback from the biggest contractors to smallest SMEs.

A construction sector without a CITB or levy, she says, would mean a number of companies incentivised by the levy would no longer feel obliged to train new staff, while the presence of an over-arching centralised body has a far greater impact than thousands of firms working in their own silos.

Both arguments are compelling.

So it is now down to the industry to decide on whether they want the CITB to remain, or for the levy to leave the construction sector.

It is important everyone has their say; the deadline is 29 September.

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