The CITB “is not broken” but a lot of work is needed to prepare the organisation for the future, its interim chief executive has admitted.
In an exclusive first interview, William Burton said he was focused on steering the CITB through its triennial review by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and creating an “efficient, effective, healthy” organisation.
“[The CITB] is not an organisation that’s broken, it doesn’t need fixing,” he said.
But he warned staff “not to expect an easy ride” during the upcoming “busy and active period” that would make sure it was well positioned for the future, he added.
Mr Burton was appointed to the interim post in May to lead the triennial review period, following the departure of former chief executive Mark Farrar after his seven years at the skills training body.
The formal two-stage review is due to report in March 2014 and will consider whether the CITB should continue to exist and, if so, whether it is governed efficiently to make best use of levied industry money.
The review “doesn’t necessarily have enormous consequences but in theory it could”, Mr Burton said.
A formal review of the CITB was last carried out in 2003. When the coalition government came to power in 2010, it decided to keep the CITB while scrapping other quangos.
But the interim chief executive said it was “right” that the debate was had now over whether “CITB is the right solution” for industry.
He added: “We’re confident that we’ll get a good outcome for the industry. What the right outcome for the industry is, is something that is rightly debated.”
“What [the CITB] does need is a lot of work to really build on the things it does to improve them, and make sure we are really well positioned for the future”
William Burton, CITB
The skills body has already put its Project Orion modernisation drive on hold, a move it said had cost the organisation £200k (see box), but Mr Burton declined to comment on events before his time with the organisation.
Although recruited for a period “likely to be six months or so”, Mr Burton told Construction News he had not ruled out applying for the post permanently.
“I’m enjoying this enormously and I’m pretty deeply committed to where we are going,” he said. “Certainly I will take a view on it as we go through [as to] whether I’ll want to throw my hat into the ring.”
CITB considers ‘alternative structure’
CITB deputy chairman Judy Lowe has confirmed to Construction News that the board is considering an “alternative structure” for the organisation.
Ms Lowe said: “We are looking at whether a board is the most effective way of governing the CITB,” adding that it needs “to have fleet of foot” to meet the pace of change in the industry.
The Department of Business will also look at the internal governance of the industry body as part of its formal review process, and Mr Burton said it would be beneficial for the organisations to do so in partnership.
Indicating that changes to the board structure could be imminent, Mr Burton said: “I know that if [the board] felt they were going to continue in exactly the way that they always have done, they wouldn’t be looking at it.”
In the next few months, Mr Burton will also oversee “some important renewal projects” within the organisation and engage with government and the industry more widely.
Sources told Construction News the skills body “urgently needed to change” but Mr Burton insisted the industry today wants “what it always wanted” from the CITB.
“[The Construction Leadership Council is] something that as an outsider, going back a couple of years, I personally had felt very strongly that industry needed this”
William Burton, CITB
He said the organisation was “an incredibly successful and enduring government and industry partnership” that was providing skills and training solutions “extremely well”.
But he acknowledged the services provided by the CITB needed to evolve to meet the changing needs of the industry.
“The skills required are evolving, you’ve got demands in terms of nuclear coming on board, you’ve got a green agenda and over time there will be a lot of repair and maintenance work, particularly around energy efficiency and so on,” he said.
“That is evolving, so our role needs to evolve and services we provide to the industry need to evolve, but I think the core role remains the same.”
Bola Abisogun, executive director of SME firm Urbanis Construction, said the remit of the CITB was too broad and, as a result, it failed to deliver simple guidance to smaller contractors and microbusinesses.
He said: “What we need from the CITB is more clarification on the process of apprenticeships. What they do need to do is understand the industry, how it works and our priorities. Information and guidance is key.”
Modernisation programme frozen
In its annual report for 2012, the CITB said it returned a £24.6m surplus for the year to 31 December 2012 (2011 £43.1m) compared with a planned £8.4m surplus.
Levy income in the year was £9.8m above expectations at £143.8m (2011 £144.4m).
The CITB said a review of the sums spent on its IT Improvement Programme against the level of benefits to be achieved had led to an impairment of these assets of £1.6m.
In response to charges that the CITB had wasted industry money in its frozen modernisation drive Project Orion, a spokesman said. “The programme made good progress but in December 2012 the board decided to prioritise improvements that did not require large-scale constitutional reform,” he said.
“In view of this, the Orion programme has been reconfigured to focus on streamlining governance, developing customer solutions and cultural change. As such the board remains committed to modernising how CITB is run.
“Two hundred thousand pounds was spent on Orion projects. The investment has not been wasted.”
Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said: “Our members are looking for a return on their investment and support in terms of apprenticeships.
“They look to the CITB to be a big champion for training and development and they want a CITB that is forward-thinking and provides practical skills training.”
Mr Berry said the reform opportunities being looked at by the CITB were to be welcomed and that “some feel [CITB] is unwieldy, so anything that streamlines the organisation and makes it more efficient is positive”.
He added that the CITB “needs a dynamic leader to make the changes needed” and someone with “commercial acumen”, but that it did not matter whether that person came from inside or outside the construction industry.
Meanwhile Mr Burton, who started his career as a mechanical engineer, hailed the creation of the Construction Leadership Council.
The council was established as part of the joint government and industry industrial strategy Construction 2025 and CITB deputy chairman Judy Lowe will be among its 30 members.
Mr Burton said: “I think that’s a hugely important event in the industry and it’s something that as an outsider, going back a couple of years, I personally had felt very strongly that the industry needed.”
In the coming months the CITB will play a leading role in the consultation on the implementation of the Richard Review of apprenticeships.
The review recommended placing control of apprenticeships more firmly in the hands of employers and focusing on the quality over quantity of apprenticeships.
But Mr Burton cited CITB research which showed that “if the particular model were just done exactly as it is recommended in all sectors… the majority – 77 per cent of 400 companies we surveyed – think they would do fewer apprenticeships rather than more”.
He said his priority would be making the detail “attuned to different sectors” to take into account the “fragmented” nature of subcontracting in construction to develop a solution that will benefit the industry.