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Heritage Skills in a Modern Construction Economy

11th July 2007

Speech for Sir Michael Latham

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. As ConstructionSkills Chair and a long-term supporter of the National Heritage Training Group, I’d like to say how delighted I am to see so many of you here this evening, all committed to the same goal of preserving our built heritage. I hope you have enjoyed both your meal, and this afternoon’s event - I’ve already had some excellent feedback about the speakers and activities, and am very much looking forward to seeing some of the outputs.

Before I go into those outputs in more detail however, I’d first like to extend some words of thanks and also of welcome. Firstly, on behalf of ConstructionSkills, the National Heritage Training Group and, I’m sure, many of you here today, I’d like to extend my thanks to David Linford, Chairman of the National Heritage Training Group from March 2003 until June this year. Unfortunately, David cannot be here tonight, but his skill and dedication have made a major contribution to the development of the National Heritage Training Group through its formative years. We have a signed certificate and a gift for him which we hope will act as a reminder of all his good work on behalf of heritage skills.

For those of you not familiar with the work of the Group, it was formed five years ago when ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry, joined forces with the four home country heritage agencies. Given a UK wide remit to develop training and skills provision for the traditional building crafts sector, these partnerships have proved to be an ideal means of addressing some of the existing labour and skills shortages in traditional building craft trades.

With the National Heritage Training Group now entering the next exciting phase of its development, I would also like to warmly welcome Mike Moody as the new Chair. Mike is a director of Historic Property Restoration, one of the UK’s leading heritage contractors and Chairman of Classic Masonry. So he has his feet in both camps of the construction industry. As a former President of the Stone Federation UK and with his energy, drive, knowledge and passion for this sector, he is ideally suited to meet the challenges ahead. Welcome, Mike, and we all look forward to working with you.

I’d also like to thank today’s speakers, who have made the event so worthwhile – Peter Rogerson, my colleague at ConstructionSkills; Dame Liz Forgan from the Heritage Lottery Fund; Jon Wallsgrove, the Departmental Architect for HM Court Service Estates; and Murdo MacLeod, Principal Conservation Officer of Edinburgh City Council.

Finally, we are indebted to His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, not only for his letter of support for this conference, but his continued championing of traditional building skills, which has had a profound effect. ConstructionSkills is proud to be a partner with English Heritage and the Princes Foundation for the Built Environment in funding the development of the Cotswold Heritage Academy and through The National Heritage Training Group, we look forward to further mutual collaboration.

Indeed, as I hope today has shown, mutual collaboration, and partners working together, are the only real ways in which we can tackle the issues faced by the built heritage sector. Building professionals, craftspeople and clients all have a role to play in the conservation, maintenance and restoration of one of the country’s most irreplaceable assets, which we are entrusted to pass on to future generations.

Our built heritage is all around us, whether it be somewhere we live and work or we visit and enjoy. It is vital that we maintain our historic buildings and their context within the national setting, as well as preserve the distinctive national and regional styles that enrich and enliven the fabric of our national landscape.

What’s more, the built heritage sector represents a vital part of the mainstream construction industry, with the vast majority of related work falling within the repair and maintenance sector. Pre-1919 building stock forms a significant part of the built environment and in terms of sustainability, it is imperative that these are appropriately maintained and repaired.

Despite this, however, heritage skills are often a lesser priority within the construction industry’s agenda. Many of the specialist skills which are needed to preserve our heritage are in decline and their very existence is threatened. Top-line findings from the heritage skills research, conducted two years ago by the National Heritage Training Group, not only showed that some 86,000 construction workers were employed repairing, maintaining and conserving historic buildings every year in England alone – but that a shortfall of 6,500 skilled craftspeople had already emerged for just the following 12 months.

The picture is not much different in Scotland, where the National Heritage Training Group has also completed research. Some 8,700 individuals will require training in traditional skills over the next four years to maintain the country’s 450,000 pre-1919 buildings. What’s more, the current £1.2 billion annual spend on repair and maintenance on pre-1919 buildings is insufficient to ensure the survival of Scotland’s built heritage, and as Scotland’s traditional building stock ages, even more buildings will require these skills.

In Wales, the picture is more optimistic, with the sector only a few hundred people short. However, many of the craftspeople involved in the sector have no formal training or skills development relevant to pre-1919 buildings. It is estimated that demand for traditional building craft skills could rise from £48 million to £122 million if all repair, maintenance, conservation and restoration work on these buildings was undertaken using traditional building craft skills and materials.

In terms of the overall skills deficits facing the construction industry – estimated by our own Construction Skills Network at over 86,000 people per year – all of this may seem comparatively small beer. But not only do these skills often take many years to learn and develop, many of the more niche trades – from earth walling to flint knapping – are now at such low levels, that they could die out completely. That would be awful. Upskilling and training is the only way for the industry, and our built heritage, to survive.

From this research, we know many of the key skills issues faced by the heritage sector. The lack of provision of long-term funding opportunities, for learners, their employers and providers, is one that has had a serious impact to date.

Up-skilling the workforce requires alternative and more flexible forms of training provision - including short courses run by manufacturers and suppliers, onsite training and assessment and adult apprenticeships – not all of which have received the central funding support they need. However, of equal concern is evidence that heritage skills not being a priority in the construction industry’s agenda is having an impact on client services, with clients having to wait over three months for the right skilled craftsperson. This puts the conservation and repair of buildings at risk.

Knowing the scale of the challenge is the first barrier to overcome. So, research and collected data are invaluable resources. However, at this stage, it is action that counts, and I’m delighted to be able to congratulate the National Heritage Training Group and its partners on the progress that has been made over the last eighteen months.

Some of these achievements have been outlined in the discussions today. Careers literature has been produced to address the skills needs through education at a school level. New entrants into the industry have also been encouraged through Heritage Lottery Fund backing of a partnership between English Heritage, The National Trust, Cadw, ConstructionSkills and the National Heritage Training Group to establish and deliver a £1 million Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme in England and Wales. The bursary scheme will run its first placement at York Minster this month and will continue until 2010, funding approximately 80 variable length work-placements of between one month and two years.

For those already in construction, the new Heritage Skills NVQ Level 3 has pathways for all the traditional building crafts. It will enable people already in the sector to develop new skills and knowledge relating to traditional building skills and materials. A target of 250 students has been set for the NVQ in its first year and students will be able to start the course from September 2007.

At a wider level, the Cotswold Heritage Skills Academy has already been providing accredited training in skills such as stone masonry, lime motor and plasters, carpentry and joinery, lead work, roof tiling, conservation bricklaying and related skills at HE and FE level; as well as providing management, business skills and conservation training to the heritage sector. The Training the Trainers programmes has also helped Further Education College trainers to expand their knowledge of conservation and grow their product portfolio to include heritage skills in the courses they deliver.

In terms of addressing regional differences in skills needs and partnership arrangements, Regional and Home Countries Skills Groups are also being established. These groups will be composed of stakeholders including the Regional Development Agency, regional Learning & Skills Council, cultural consortia, historic environment forum, training providers, contractors, craftspeople and trades union representatives.

The aim of these groups will be to access regional funding opportunities, combining the National Heritage Training Group’s over-arching coordinating role and national strategy with establishing regional partnerships to provide sustainable training and skills provision. This will help provide regional solutions to regional needs and these groups will shape delivery of flexible traditional building skills training and development.

To date, steering or coordinating groups have already been established in eight of the nine English regions. I look forward to seeing their results over the next eighteen months.

However, despite this progress, it is clear that more action is needed from across the sector. We know that the bottom line is the most important thing out there for businesses, and any investment in training needs a business case. Yet the business case for investment in training for the heritage sector could be greatly reinforced by clients demanding the right skills for the contract, and balancing quality and price when assessing tenders.

David Lammy was a strong supporter of this approach and we were encouraged last week by his new appointment to the position of Under-Secretary of State for Skills. We look forward to continued dialogue with him about heritage skills and training.

The current industry culture, trade practice and the historic lack of awareness among many clients and stockholders has contributed to the vicious circle that perpetuates the use of inappropriate methods and materials on pre-1919 buildings – threatening their maintenance and the built environment around us. It is therefore essential that clients and stockholders consider the most appropriate skills and incorporate them into supply chain tendering processes.

In doing this, the procurement process has the potential to help to raise skills standards across the industry. Clients need to recognise the costs are slight compared to the potentially greater risks and longer-term damage to the buildings and structures caused by not using a skilled workforce. As we have seen today and shown through the example at Gorton Monastery in Manchester, heritage skills in the procurement process can enable the drive for a full-qualified workforce by 2010. They create a level playing field for historic building contracts when tendering, and by procuring to quality represent better value for money.

I hope that the event this afternoon has enabled all of you to see the progress that has been made towards meeting heritage skills challenges; and where we need to go next – particularly when it comes to procurement and delivery of training and development.

This is such vital work, protecting our heritage for the next 100 years and longer. We must continue to see it as a major priority for the nation and the industry; and we must all work together to deliver best practice and the highest level of skills and achievement.

I’d like to thank all of you once again for attending, and wish you an enjoyable remainder of the evening and a safe journey home.

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