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16th May 2019
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We have Mail: apprenticeships
Stephen Lukacs, a construction site manager from Kent, writes about the problems our apprenticeships scheme faces:
I write in response to the comment piece from Travis Perkins in a recent KBzine, entitled: 'How increasing the number of apprenticeships in the building trade could solve more than one problem.'
My view is that developers do not take on apprentices on site as all the works are subcontracted out, which is the norm.
Previously the funding agency HCA (Homes & Community Agency) was given £17.5 billon for the†funding of affordable housing building projects. In that agreement there was a contractual requirement which stated that for every £1m given to developers, one apprentice position must be created.
This requirement was removed by Eric Pickles MP, as he felt that this condition tied up developers with red tape. But the real truth was that the subcontracted building companies were complaining because of the legal tax loophole allowing them to employ cheap, tax free, foreign labour - which does not permit them to take on any apprentices.
On all Government funded building projects, i.e. schools, hospitals etc., there was a contractual requirement for an agreed number of apprentices, but county councils like Kent County Council used their powers to withdraw this requirement - although it was funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. Kent County Councillor Chris Hoare has raised this with the Council and is currently trying to find out why.
There is a Private Members bill†going through Parliament, initiated by MP Catherine McKinnell and backed by Lord Sugar, which is requesting that all Government funded projects and large private house building projects have apprenticeships as a requirement. This bill failed to receive the support by MPs to go forward.
The most interesting point in the article is about the number of apprentices. Unlike Scotland there is no official body that knows how many apprentices are currently employed and in what field. In England a questionnaire was sent out to developers asking them the question: 'How many apprentices are working on the development?' But as developers cannot employ apprentices the researchers contacted the material suppliers who in turn contacted their installation companies who asked their subcontracted installing companies the question. This was fed back through the chain until a satisfactory, unsubstantiated number had been agreed.
The main question that developers and installation companies are asking, is: 'Why take on apprentices, incur large costs, have unnecessary health & safety risks etc when we have a plethora of already experienced, tax- and National Insurance-free, cheap, foreign labour?' These companies are, after all, just businesses set up to make money.
In the private housebuilding business, local planning regulations could insist on apprenticeships as part of the planning agreement (known as S106). But when Greg Clarke became MP for Tonbridge Wells and responsible for planning, he removed that requirement as this would interfere with the loophole restricting the use of cheap foreign labour.
We will remain so far away from an effective apprenticeship plan until we have the backing of councils and MPs. While European tax loopholes allows foreign agencies†to work for such low wages, we cannot resolve the problem.
4th July 2014