Construction Industry Training Board

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:46 pm on 20th March 1996.

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham , North West Norfolk 12:46 pm, 20th March 1996

I am very interested in my hon. Friend's comments, because the Federation of Master Builders feels the same way. When the chairman, Sir Clifford Chetwood, assured the board that the relocation enjoyed the unanimous support of the federations, at best, it was a gross misrepresentation of the truth and, at worst, it was a downright lie.

To cap it all off, I gather that the board hurried to its conclusion in order to take Sir Clifford to a celebratory lunch, having effectively axed 291 jobs in my constituency. The conduct of the board meeting was absolutely shameful and Sir Clifford Chetwood—a captain and a knight of industry who has many admirers in this place and throughout the country—should be ashamed of himself. It reinforced my view, and that of many of my hon. Friends, that Sir Clifford was determined to bulldoze the decision through the board at all costs before he stood down as chairman.

I support the CITB and I shall continue to do so in future as I believe that we must have a statutory training board with a levy to provide training for our youngsters and to maintain high safety standards. I am obviously pleased that it intends to invest in new training facilities in my constituency and I have no doubt that it could have a bright future. I believe also that the changes that the CITB is making to the field service and the streamlining of the headquarters—which will be painful in any event—can be justified and sustained.

However, I cannot under any circumstances support the relocation of the headquarters away from Bircham. I visited there on Monday and I found that the decision has completely shattered morale. There is a strong chance of industrial action at Bircham. When Sir Clifford Chetwood assumed responsibility for the CITB, it was rich in reserves, had very high staff morale and was building on the excellent work of Dennis Maiden, Derek Gaulter and Leslie Kemp: it knew where it was going. Sir Clifford is now handing over an organisation where morale is at rock bottom and everything is in a complete shambles because of the uncertainty and staff bewilderment. After all, the greatest asset of any organisation—particularly a training board—is its staff.

I believe that the new chairman, Hugh Try, has his work cut out: as things stand, he must push forward the very important reforms restructuring the field service and streamlining the headquarters, while simultaneously taking on the relocation, when the federations have not been consulted properly and in the run-up to the new levy. My hon. Friend, as the Minister who will take the levy through Parliament, will be aware that it normally goes through on the basis of consensus. If he is to bring the levy to Parliament without industry consensus—there is grave danger that, if the Federation of Master Builders and the National Federation of Specialist Contractors withdraw their support, it will not have the necessary percentage—there could be a crisis of confidence.

I am deeply pessimistic about the CITB's future if the board does not reverse its relocation decision. The new chairman must tell the board that the CITB has a lot to do, that it faces big challenges and that it could have a bright future. However, he must also emphasise that, in order to secure that future, he needs the support of Ministers, all hon. Members—including Opposition Members—and employees. As things stand currently, he will not have that support and the CITB's future looks very bleak. However, he has another option: I implore Hugh Try to seize the opportunity and recommend that the board reverses that part of its decision on 6 March relating to relocation.