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Traditional building craft skills top the agenda at historic joint All Party Parliamentary Group meeting

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Construction Skills and Training hosted a joint meeting with the APPGs for Arts and Heritage and Roofing to discuss skills and training in the built heritage arena last month.

The joint meeting comes in the wake of the launch of new research by the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) into the skills needs of the built heritage sector in Scotland and the forthcoming research in Wales.

In England alone there are some 86,000 people currently working in built heritage, and over £3.5 billion per year is spent on conservation and restoration of historic buildings, based on the latest available research in 2004. However, many of the specialist skills needed to preserve our heritage are in decline, with some in severe danger of dying out completely, and as many as 6,500 skilled new entrants are required each year to meet demand. A lack of appropriately skilled crafts people is putting our historic buildings – of which there are some 4.9 million including 500,000 listed buildings in England alone – in danger of falling into disrepair.

The meeting focussed on the challenges the nations face to reverse the current decline in traditional building craft skills and safeguard our built heritage for the future. The meeting provided APPG members with insights into current initiatives, recent developments such as the in-depth research into heritage building skills undertaken by the NHTG and joint working opportunities.

ConstructionSkills’ Heritage & Conservation Manager, Seamus Hanna, explained: “In order to conserve our historic buildings, it is imperative to preserve our craftspeople’s historic skills. As the Sector Skills Council for the industry, we’re currently working with Historic Scotland, the NHTG, and a number of others within the sector, to ensure that we have the right skills, in the right place, at the right time to maintain these significant buildings. We are committed to ensuring that these skills, and more specialist trades, don’t die out.”

To address the urgent challenges, ConstructionSkills, in partnership with English Heritage, the adviser to Government on the historic environment in England, joined forces in 2002. The result in 2004 was the signing of one of the industry’s first Sector Skills Agreements. This partnership has proved to be an ideal means of addressing existing labour and skills shortages in traditional building crafts trades.

In fact, on the back of the success of the SSA in England, a Sector Skills Agreement has now been implemented between ConstructionSkills and Historic Scotland with similar progress expected.

ConstructionSkills is working in partnership with English Heritage, Historic Scotland and CADW to implement initiatives and plans for the future. Much is already being done: in September last year, the Prince of Wales launched the first ever heritage skills academy, a new Heritage NVQ has been established and a bursary scheme to encourage new applicants to the built heritage sector has just been launched.

These initiatives and many others formed the topic of discussion for the joint meeting. Sir Patrick Cormack, Chairman of the All-Party Arts and Heritage Group, said:
“The survival of the crafts is essential if we are to maintain our built heritage. Everyone who cares about historic buildings should care equally about the crafts and the people upon whose skill and dedication we depend. I believe that this coming together of members of three Parliamentary groups will help reinforce not only the need for the crafts but the strength of Parliamentary support for them.”

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From left to right:
Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP
, Vice Chairman, All Party Parliamentary Group for Construction Skills and Training
Gerald Emerton
, National Federation of Roofing Contractors
Gary Butcher
, Managing Director, Angel Interiors
Sir Patrick Cormack MP
, Chairman, All-Party Arts and Heritage Group
Sir Michael Latham
, Chairman, ConstructionSkills.

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