2009 – the major players in the Heritage Sector of the construction industry challenged contractors to sign up for an initiative which would spell the end of unqualified, inappropriately skilled contractors working on national heritage sites.
2010 – the members of the Lead Contractors Association (LCA) rose to that challenge and more than 300 signed up (at a cost) to be recognised as Heritage Skills Specialist Leadworkers and receive the newly conceived CSCS card, believing the major client base involved would be approving exclusive use of this carded workforce on heritage projects.
April 2011 – we are still waiting for a commitment to this quality standard initiative from the sector’s major client group – English Heritage.
Whilst all the right supportive noises have been made at various senior levels within EH, what has been the biggest push in recent times for meaningful recognition of the heritage specialist is in danger of failing because of prevarication by the organisation that stands to benefit the most.
The problems at English Heritage have been widely documented, with the national economic crisis requiring drastic cut backs in the public funding of EH budgets, threatening widespread redundancies at all levels.
Of course this is a painful and difficult time for many organisations and businesses, including English Heritage, but also including all those contractors, suppliers and manufacturers involved inUKconstruction.
The National Heritage Training Group has been supported by ConstructionSkills, UNITE the Union and the NHTG member craft organisations in rapidly developing the Heritage Skills CSCS card initiative.
Once again, specialist leadwork has been at the fore as the craft which has succeeded in rapidly achieving the required “critical mass” of qualified cardholders registered for heritage work and is now being used as a test case in challenging English Heritage to make their own commitment to quality standards.
The NHTG, flanked by UNITE and the Lead Contractors Association is seeking urgent talks with EH at the highest levels to persuade them to ACT NOW to announce a change in procurement policy to exclusively use Heritage Skills Specialist Leadwork CSCS cardholders on English Heritage projects and thereby:
Recognise the overall commitment of the craft sector to maintaining quality standards
- Recognise the specific commitment of the specialist leadwork sector in rapidly achieving a critical mass of registered contractors
- Send a message to all craft trades that supporting this initiative will be a worthwhile and justified commitment
- Remove the threat of untrained, unqualified, inexperienced and insufficiently knowledgeable tradesmen from vulnerable heritage projects
- Prioritise historically correct working practices and long term value for money over short term, cut price expediency
- Protect and preserve today’s heritage for future generations
Despite our frustrations, the LCA believe EH will eventually do the right thing, perhaps simply because any alternative course will put the integrity of the entire heritage sector at risk.
The ground is therefore already being prepared for those that did not register for the Heritage Skills card during the “grandfather rights” window which closed in September 2010, yet may have skilled and experienced craftsmen who will be prevented from working on heritage sites.
In conjunction with the Lead Sheet Association, the LCA are pressing Construction Skills to recognise an Experienced Worker Practical Assessment (EWPA) route to gaining a nationally recognised Level 3 qualification in Heritage Skills which would then enable contractors to apply for their Heritage Skills CSCS card.
As well as providing the EWPA assessment venue,NigelJohnstonat the LSA is also exploring the potential for providing an on site facility for the “Health & Safety – Working at Heights” test, thus providing a more convenient single venue to process applicants and minimise the time lost from site.
The standards of the leadwork sector – our years of policing, quality control, comprehensive reference literature and technical support – are the envy of every other roofing trade, but it comes at a long term price, both financially and in terms of commitment.
There is a very real danger that if this craft skills initiative stalls, we risk the prospect of our built heritage being vandalised and iconic buildings such as the dome at St Pauls being covered in a lead sheet look-alike in the future because all the traditional lead craftsmen have disappeared.
There is also the danger that when English Heritage and others next seek support from contractors for future important “initiatives” they risk being met with a simple response.
“What’s the point?”