The Bircham Newton site. Picture: Paul Tibbs

Around 150 West Norfolk jobs have been secured after plans to sell the construction college at Bircham Newton were scrapped.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) confirmed the u-turn this week – three years after announcing plans to leave the site.

CITB moved its headquarters to Peterborough and placed its colleges up for sale as part of its Vision 2020 reform strategy, unveiled in 2017, to cut costs and hand over direct training to alternative providers.

But, after failing to find buyers, the board will continue to run the National Construction College (NCC) East at Bircham Newton and NCC Scotland itself.

Sale discussions with a training provider are continuing for a third college, NCC South in London.

In a statement, CITB said it had not been possible to find buyers for all the training businesses, particularly for specialist trades, partly due to the pandemic. 

“CITB has had active discussions with potential buyers of these businesses for the last two years but COVID-19 has now reshaped the long-term economic landscape for everyone and meant that potential new owners were reluctant to proceed to purchase,” the statement said.

“In light of this and the commitment made that these services would not be lost, the CITB Board has decided to retain NCC East (Bircham Newton) and NCC Scotland (Inchinnan), though discussions with an alternative training provider for NCC South (Erith) will continue. 

“CITB will also retain other training services provided remotely,” the statement said.

Construction union Unite welcomed the news, but said staff had been forced to “put their lives on hold” because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of the colleges.

Regional co-ordinating officer Mark Robinson said: “This announcement should secure the future of the national construction colleges for many years.

“However, selling the colleges was a major plank of the CITB’s Vision 2020 and this has completely failed. 

“Our members have had their lives put on hold for three-and- a-half years, not knowing who their employer would be, or if they even would have a job.

“CITB’s board has invested heavily in a new head office in Peterborough, resulting in hundreds of workers being made redundant. 

“The reputational damage the CITB has suffered across the entire construction industry has been immense.

“Unite warned at the outset that the CITB’s restructure plans were ill thought out and unrealistic, the union takes little satisfaction in those fears being entirely correct.” 

Peter Lauener, chairman of CITB’s board, said the right course of action to support industry now was to provide “stability and assurance”. 

“This decision gives employers and CITB colleagues confidence and clarity and enables us to plan for the future, having realised the core ambitions of reform. 

“We will of course keep these businesses under close review as we do for every aspect of our operation and this might lead in due course to alterations in our approach to NCC, but we have no plans at present to return to market,” he said.