HL Deb 02 April 1996 vol 571 cc139-41

2.58 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the proposal that the Construction Industry Training Board should move from its existing location will adversely effect its training programme, particularly if staff redundancies result.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, the re-location of the administrative headquarters from Bircham Newton is a matter for the Board itself and, I am informed, it is part of a package to improve the operational efficiency of all its services, including the training programme. The board does not propose to re-locate the training facility currently situated at Bircham Newton. It also aims, as far as possible, to keep to a minimum staff redundancies arising from implementation.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Is he aware that the proposed re-location has occasioned an enormous amount of local anxiety, with the result that a group is opposing the re-location? The group is led by the local MP and supported by the trade unions. Is the Minister aware that there has been very little consultation, if any, about the proposed move and that certain members of the board also oppose the move? Is he also aware that there is a very strongly held belief that the move, if it does take place, will involve substantial redundancies? Will that not inevitably have some effect on the effectiveness of the CITB? Therefore, will not the Government feel it incumbent on themselves to do what they can to influence the CITB against this move?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am aware that very strong feelings have been expressed both for and against the proposals and those strong feelings were reflected in the decision of the board which, I understand, was split in its vote on these proposals. I am also aware that consultation with the various employer federations took place only some two weeks before the decision was made. That is possibly something which the noble Baroness and I would agree was regrettable. As regards whether the Government should intervene, it is a matter for the CITB to decide for itself. It is an operational matter for the board and I am sure that it will take note of the anxieties put forward by the local MP and by a considerable number of members of the other place and those expressed this afternoon by the noble Baroness.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that because of the fragmentary nature of the construction industry, there is some requirement for a central training facility, such as the CITB, particularly to develop new technology skills? Does my noble friend agree that the CITB does a good job and that it is the proper function of government to fund such a central facility, which I hope that they will continue to do?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the future of the CITB is not in question. It is not a matter of government funding. The CITB is funded by a levy which is agreed by both Houses each year, so obviously that is a matter for the Government. I can assure my noble friend that whatever happens as a result of the re-location proposals, the CITB will continue to perform the function that it performs at the moment and to provide training facilities in my noble friend's own part of the world, Norfolk.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the Construction Industry Training Board has already decided to eliminate 380 training posts, and that a spokesman for the board is reported to have said that the restructuring of the board is because—I quote: training is seen as yet another cost in a difficult time"? Should not training for skills be regarded rather as an essential investment for the future?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can confirm that, as I said to my noble friend, the CITB will continue to exist and to provide training. We are talking merely about the re-location of its headquarters. I can give an absolute categorical assurance that there is no question of money from the training budget being diverted to pay for the implementation of the review proposals. I am not aware of the allegations which the noble Lord has made about a cut in the number of training posts provided by the CITB, but I shall certainly look into that. The assurance that I have had from the board is that it will not cut its training and certainly not as a result of the re-location proposals which relate only to its headquarters.