Will cheating allegations herald the end of CSCS cards?

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The news that a scheme responsible for certifying builders has been rigged could have potentially far-reaching consequences for the industry

Construction Skills Certification Scheme Cards (CSCS) are part and parcel of the sector. The scheme, administered by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), launched in 1995 and was designed to prove the skill level of workers.

The sector, which is already one of the most dangerous in the UK, has seen numerous deaths over the past five years. In fact, a total of 221 construction workers have died on the job during this period. Ensuring employees have the right skills to keep themselves safe, as well as their colleagues, is vital.

In a devastating blow it was revealed yesterday that a number of test centres across the country have awarded the qualification to workers in return for money. On one occasion candidates were given the answers to the exam as they sat it.

Aside from leaving a bad taste in the mouth of many construction firms, it is also a concerning revelation. The fact many workers could have gained this qualification fraudulently calls into question the legitimacy of the entire scheme. In a sector that is renowned for being dangerous it is simply unthinkable that there are those who have corrupted the main benchmark used to measure the ability of workers.

The investigation was led by BBC London and BBC Newsnight. The BBC discovered via a Freedom of Information request to the CITB there were 96 reported incidents of CSCS fraud in 2012. This figure has risen substantially over the past few years, increasing to 264 in 2013 and 311 in 2014.

In a survey of 419 construction workers responsible for checking CSCS cards, the CITB found one per cent saw fraudulent cards every day. This figure stood at one-third in London.

Carl Rhymer, of the CITB, said: “CITB is aware of the problem card fraud poses, which is why we’ve taken a series of measures to tackle this head on.

“We doubled our spend on fraud investigations, which led to five centres being shut down – with eight other centres under investigation.

“We’re accelerating plans to install mandatory CCTV in all centres to monitor for fraudulent activity, and have launched spot-checks.

“Our intelligence suggests card fraud is focused in a small minority of the 544 testing centres.”

The scheme’s Chief Executive Graham Wren said: “CSCS takes fraudulent activity extremely seriously, and it’s essential that steps are taken to prevent it.

“CSCS relies on awarding organisations to verify an individual has achieved required qualifications before CSCS issues the appropriate card.

“CSCS is confident the vast majority of cards issued are a result of a legitimate qualification.”

There is no doubt this news will cast uncertainty, but the question is whether the scheme can gain back the trust it has lost. Additionally, are there any safeguards that can be put in place to ensure those presenting CSCS cards gained them legitimately?

Where the industry proceeds from here is uncertain, but some tough questions certainly need to be asked going forward.

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