It seems we had been waiting for the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement for a very long time. Decisions on government spending were delaying progress on many fronts as we waited to see how big a dose of further austerity we were about to be asked to swallow. In the event, Mr Osborne showed himself to be a master politician by setting us up to expect the worst and then unexpectedly finding £27 billion down the back of the Treasury sofa.
Suddenly, we didn’t have to make such radical cuts, and what cuts there are will not manifest themselves immediately. Besides, responsibility for the biggest cuts have been deftly passed onto local government.
So what does all this mean for our sector? The Office of Budget Responsibility is forecasting 2.4 per cent growth for this year and consistent growth around this figure up to 2020. This consistent sustainable growth should give us the platform for a little planning and investment in the future.
If the big issue is skills and a lack of skilled labour then we need a plan to bring people into the workforce to meet the increased demand, and replace those who leave through injury or retirement. That process would be helped by a consistent funding and qualification process. Following the Autumn Statement, we are not much the wiser.
The new Apprenticeship Levy of 0.5 per cent will be paid by those companies who have a payroll over £3 million a year; this is PAYE, so the majority of our specialist subcontractor members will not be directly impacted. There will, however, be an indirect impact as those larger construction companies covered will reduce the amount they contribute to CITB. We don’t yet know how the vouchers they can claim against training will work. Will they be able to pass them down their supply chain?
At the same time, there is uncertainty with the introduction of ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeships. Only trailblazers will attract government funding so there’s a rush to develop new apprenticeships
for construction. How do you square the requirements of a large commercial drylining contractor with a micro plastering business in the domestic sector into a single apprenticeship? All difficult questions that we are considering at the moment.
Add to this cocktail the CITB in the midst of project ‘Transform’ as it restructures to make itself fit for purpose. Anyone who has taken part in a change programme knows how disruptive this can be. This situation is unlikely to be fully resolved until the latter half of 2016, as we see CITB staff changes, funding routes altered and a reduction in the levy that goes into the pot.
In this pool of uncertainty, FIS is developing a training plan that will include a trailblazer apprenticeship or two, a simplified process for grant claims and a simpler approach to getting your operatives carded that reflects how the industry operates. It’s a tough ask and we need all the help we can get. So, anyone who currently trains or wants to but is struggling with the current system, get in touch and let us know how we can help.
FIS chief executive