Skills and training is the big issue facing the industry at the moment or rather it would be if we did not waste so much of our time chasing money, but more of that later.

Voice of the IndustryI’ve been involved in skills development and training for a long time. Working firstly with the FPDC, NSCC and then AIS FPDC on various schemes and pilots to try to improve the level of training in the sector. The amount of grant returned to the sector compared to levy paid has always been a source of frustration to me. This is largely caused by the time consuming bureaucracy involved to get relatively small amounts of money back from CITB and often leads to grant claims not being made at all.

I’ve sat on the CITB Grant Scheme Working Party for two years and seen how the process works and frankly I feel it didn’t work well for SMEs. Yet like so many contractors I’m in support of the training levy.  We need to invest in the future of our industry and that needs investment in people.

I very much welcome the reform currently underway since the appointment of Adrian Belton as CEO of CITB.  I believe there is a genuine desire to make CITB fit our industry’s needs for the future. Part of the changes made is the restructuring of the Board and Council to make the organisation more efficient and agile. So I was delighted to be appointed to the new Council as an NSCC representative and by implication AIS FPDC.

I think we will start to see some real change in 2015, starting with a new training strategy for the interiors and finishes sector. A strategy that will start to coordinate training provision and funding across the country rather than on the ad hoc basis it is at the moment. Together with changes to our apprenticeships structure and funding, changes that reflect how the industry works rather than how others would like to see it operate.

It is therefore frustrating to have to return to the thorny old subject of late payment. There is little doubt that the market has recovered and there is demand for our services, but this has yet to translate into a universal improvement in payment. I fully endorse the NSCC fair payment campaign but until this is adopted we continue to suffer. As financial controller at DCP this takes a disproportionate amount of my time, wading through complex contract clauses, figuring out what date we will be told how much and finally when we are to be paid. The whole process robs me of time to develop the company and resources to invest in improvement. It is also immensely frustrating and does nothing to help deliver better projects.

How do we solve this problem? Simpler contracts might be a start, my heart sinks when I receive a 100 page plus document for a minor contract. Could the answer lie with the proposed merger between the UK Contractors Group (UKCG) and NSCC, our specialist contractor umbrella body? One organisation to represent contractors. Years of arguments and complaints have failed to make a tangible difference so perhaps open and honest discussion within one body will help. It would certainly improve the lack of a coherent voice for contractors. Although I’m aware of the risks, I’m broadly in favour. The alternative is, I think, a backward step. It has been my experience with AIS FPDC that we have achieved more through open dialogue than through confrontation, as satisfying as that superficially can be on occasion.

Carole Bailey
CITB council member, AIS FPDC member and finance director, DCP Group Holdings (UK) Ltd