27th November Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Remember a few weeks back when Chancellor George Osborne announced the new apprenticeship levy which was to be paid by ‘every big company’ in England? Well, according to speculation that could be all about to change, and the potential new changes could massively affect small to medium sized businesses.

This week the government suggested that it may cut the definition of ‘larger’ companies from those with 250 plus staff down to as few as 50 employees. This would result in thousands more companies in the industry paying two apprenticeship levies, which when the apprenticeship levy was suggested back in October, companies made it very clear they wouldn’t be willing to do – completely understandable in an industry where margins are tight.

The possible shift in policy was aired at a meeting held last week at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), attended by a number of construction sector organisations.

However, the view from the CBI was that the 50 employee threshold being floated in government circles was nothing more than a “scare tactic” and could well be revised upwards to 100 staff. Scare tactic indeed, it certainly scares me, as a supporter of both SMEs and apprenticeships, who knows how the change could affect apprentices.

So far the only reasonable solution that has been suggested is that the rate at which the new levy is paid would be tiered; meaning smaller firms which cross the new, lower threshold would pay less than the larger companies.

Luckily by Wednesday all speculation stopped, with the Chancellor’s spending review telling us that the new apprenticeship levy will be set at a £15,000 threshold for employers, meaning that the new levy will only be paid on employers’ pay bills of more than £3 million, so essentially larger companies.

According to the Chancellor fewer than two per cent of employers will pay the levy, meaning small and medium sized businesses can breathe a sigh of relief and probably feel a lot better now than they did at the beginning of the week.


The apprenticeship levy is set to be implemented from 2017. It was designed to increase investment in training and forms part of the government’s pledge to support three million apprenticeships by 2020, which according to Mr Osborne it is still on track to do. The levy will raise £3 billion a year and promises that employers paying into it will get out more than they put it.

So for now, we’re a lot more in the know than we were at the beginning of the week, with speculations appearing left right and centre. We now know who will have to pay the levy and how much it will be. For now we’ll have to put our faith in the government that the levy can successfully deliver everything we have been promised.

26th November 2015 Newsletter

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20th November Journal Column

APS Black logo 2015By Phillippa Webb, Associate CK21 and NE Chair of Association of Project Safety (APS)

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) announced last month that there will no longer be a grace period of six months for the Site Safety Plus Scheme. So what does this mean, and what does it mean for the industry?
Well, considering the CITB updated the Site Safety Plus rules following customer feedback, it seems this is something the industry wanted.
The Site Safety Plus Scheme provides the building, civil engineering and allied industries with a range of courses for people wanting to develop their skills in this area.

The courses range from a one-day Health and Safety Awareness course to the five-day Site Management Safety Training Scheme, and everything else in between. There is currently a six month grace period between the expiry date of a certificate and the date needed to attend a refresher course, but come the new year that’s all about to change.

After 31 December 2015, the removal of the grace period means you must attend a refresher course before the end date on your safety certificate. Let’s hope you all have good memories, because failure to attend the refresher before the certificate expires means you are required to attend the full course again, so you must be aware of the expiry date on your certificate.
But don’t fret, Cskills Awards have given us a little time to adjust to this change, but come 1 January no registrations will be made that are beyond the end date of the certificate without formal appeal.

That being said, if your certificate has expired, or you are within six months of expiry, you should attend a refresher course before the end of the year – and considering we’re half way through November that’s not much time at all.
The grace period for the Site Safety Plus scheme has been removed to bring the scheme in line with other Cskills Awards products.
The revised Scheme Rules and associated course appendices are available to download from the Site Safety Plus page on the Cskills Awards website.
For me, the removal of the grace period isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having a grace period in place plays down the importance of having an up-to-date safety certificate, there is less urgency to attend the refresher course. At least this way we know safety certificates will always be up-to-date, and skills are constantly being refreshed. It can’t do any harm to update and refresh your skills, in fact when it comes to health and safety it will do quite the opposite.

19th November 2015 Newsletter

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13th November Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’m always supportive of getting young people into the industry and recruiting new staff, so it’s no surprise that I am thrilled with the information published in the recent report by Prospects.

The report shows that for architecture and building graduates, prospects are improving. Graduates from last year have topped the overall results for across the whole country. The employment rates for 2014 graduates were higher than average, with 85.1 per cent in work within six months of leaving university. Considering the overall employment rate for all graduates is only 76.6 per cent, I’d say that’s pretty good going for our industry.
Beating national averages can only mean good things and shows that the industry is going from strength to strength.

Only 5.3 per cent of graduates from 2014 were still unemployed after six months of graduating, and if we compare that to the rate of all graduates, 6.3 per cent, our industry is still coming in way above the rest. Across all subjects we’ve seen massive improvements; back in 2010 the unemployment rate six months after graduation was a lot higher at 10.9 per cent. Opportunities are increasing for graduates and in particular our graduates, which I love to see.

The report, published by Prospects, revealed the difference in employment outcomes among all graduates, showing which degrees are more likely to lead to a career in that particular area of study. Out of the top five, three were degrees relating to the industry; civil engineering, mechanical engineering and architecture and building; with them all having the highest rates out of the 24 that featured.

The Local Government Association (LGA) had previously announced that in the last five years the number of completed construction apprenticeships fell by 58 per cent, so it’s good to know students are still coming into the industry through other means. The LGA also reported earlier in the year that the numbers of students studying the subjects which relate to the industry are mainly boys, which wasn’t good news for an advocate of women in the industry like me. However, things finally seem to be changing, the Prospects report shows that across architectural related subjects almost 40 per cent of graduates were women – which is good enough for me.

As I have said many times before in this column, I am 100 per cent behind supporting new recruits, particularly students and young people, as I believe that the young people of today hold the future of our industry in their hands and we should therefore do all that we can to encourage them into the industry and show them exactly what construction can offer.

12th November 2015 Newsletter

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6th November Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve spoken several times about the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) this year, and here we are with it hitting the headlines once again.

First there were plans to scrap the 13 cards and introduce one smart card to eliminate the number of fake cards, which according to recent news hasn’t been too successful. Now, there’s been a call for construction safety tests to be made more vigorous following the recent scandal that test centres were taking cash to rig health and safety exams. I really can’t comprehend this, is it really worth risking someone’s life just to pass a test the first time? What is the point in doing a job if you aren’t doing it safely?

Some of the fraudulent qualifications were used to get work on building sites, a school and in probably one of the most dangerous places to be around, a power station.

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) want the current test system to be replaced by a one day course to be paid for by the employers.

UCATT believe the CSCS cards still have significant value, which I totally agree with, the current system that is in place is one that everyone is aware of. Everyone in the industry knows what the cards are and what they represent.

It’s not about changing the cards, but more about changing the way in which firms acquire one. The current test is reasonably simple, a standard tick box exam which could be passed by somebody with good luck and a good ability to guess. The test needs to be able to prove that construction workers know their business.

I fully support the UCATT suggestion to introduce a one day course, yes it might cost the employer but so does the current test that you have to take part in. At least this way you can be certain your staff are fully aware of what they’re doing and that the company can operate safely.

Making it more difficult to acquire a CSCS card means we can be more certain than ever that companies and construction sites are operating safely, meaning we can protect the excellent reputation that the majority of the industry holds. Let’s not let a few cases of senseless fraudulent behaviour tarnish what I know is a good, honest and hard-working industry.

Construction is the UKs most dangerous employment sector. In the past five years alone, 221 workers have died. Surely paying a little extra money to ensure the safety of your staff and customers is worth it? In my eyes it certainly is …

5th November 2015 Newsletter

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