Building Lives’ Hackney apprentices lose jobs amid funding chaos

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Caught in the middle: 16 of Building Lives’ Hackney apprentices have had their redundancies upheld. Photograph: Annalies Winny

Construction apprentices at Hackney’s Building Lives academy are fighting for their jobs, despite the cash-strapped training scheme receiving £400,000 to save hundreds of apprenticeships.

Sixteen Hackney apprentices, who had been working for £2.73 per hour (the minimum apprentice wage), were made redundant when the Building Lives scheme lost key funding in March.

The #loveLIVES crowd-funded campaign, launched by construction charity Lighthouse, Construction News, and consultancy firm KPMG, reached its target of £400,000 in just 50 days, securing the short-term future of Building Lives while it awaits permanent funding from the Skills Funding Agency.

But despite the new funds, 11 Hackney apprentices who appealed against their redundancies had them upheld under the terms of Building Lives’ previous agreement with the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).

A letter sent to one apprentice, seen by the Hackney Citizen, reads: “All apprentices who had not been employed or registered with the CITB by 1 January 2015 were selected for redundancy,” concluding that “Building Lives is no longer able to assist you further.”

Lighthouse, which launched the crowd-funded campaign and is responsible for distributing the new funds to Building Lives, has told the Hackney Citizen that it may withhold some of the money in order to support the 16 jobless apprentices.

The CEO of Lighthouse, Bill Hill, said he was not made aware of the Hackney redundancies.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it.” he said. “But if necessary, we will hold back money from Building Lives to get these 16 back into work. The industry desperately needs them.

“The campaign was all about looking at people still in the programme and making sure they could get to the end of their education.”

“I’d hate to think we were letting any of of them go because of some bureaucratic process that’s gotten in the way of doing the right thing.”

Building Lives’ registered employer, Lakehouse, cut ties with the social enterprise in March, disqualifying the scheme for CITB funding with near-immediate effect. This left the scheme scrambling for cash with more than 200 learners across its 10 academies without secure training. Sixteen who had reached the employment stage of the scheme were made redundant — all of them based at Building Lives’ Hackney academy .

Two of the apprentices in the group have successfully appealed their redundancies and remain employed by the scheme.

But one of them, who wished not to be named, told the Hackney Citizen that while he is technically employed, he is not working:

“We’re getting paid to do nothing. We’re not going to college, and we’re not working on-site,” he said.

Another two apprentices who had been in the redundancy pool were subsequently offered contracts with a Lakehouse subsidiary.

Having lost their appeals, 11 of the apprentices are taking their case, alongside Unite the Union, to the government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), claiming “loss of training opportunity”, “unfair dismissal” and “sham redundancies”. They are calling for Lakehouse and Building Lives to reinstate the apprenticeships and swallow the cost of completing the apprentices’ training.

“We’re asking ACAS to intervene, and are seeking compensation or to reinstate apprenticeships that were lost”, said Unite representative Bryan Kennedy, who has taken on their case.

However, Hill hopes that the apprentices can be re-employed without a lengthy tribunal process.

“Here we have 16 young capable people who have put themselves out to learn the trade. If we can have those names of those individuals, I personally and the charity [Lighthouse] will re-connect them to the industry and real companies who will take them through their training”.

Not all the apprentices are hoping to remain with Building Lives.

Raoul, 45, was due to complete his apprenticeship in this autumn. He was an out-of-work electrician when he joined Building Lives last spring, after waiting a year for his apprenticeship to start.

He told the Hackney Citizen he is “very disappointed” with the decision, but rather than continue his training, he would prefer to cut ties with the scheme entirely.

“I want to move on with my life without Building Lives, or Lakehouse. I don’t trust them.”

When approached by the Hackney Citizen, Lakehouse declined to comment. Building Lives said it did not have an official statement at this time. 

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