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BCC update on key industry issues

17 October 2023

One of the many highlights at this year's Cleaning Excellence Conference is British Cleaning Council (BCC) chair Delia Cannings. Here, Delia discusses the work of the BCC and how we need to work together to ensure cleaning staff receive the respect they deserve.

WE LIVE in a time of change, both for the country and the cleaning, hygiene and waste industry.

The nation is still dealing with the effects of Brexit, the fear of Covid-19 may have reduced but the pandemic is not over as we see the variant strain on the rise, and working behaviours have changed considerably, as people seek reassurances of clean, safe environments. 

One thing that hasn’t changed – we are still fighting for the recognition that cleaning staff deserve.

Some people might dismiss us as ‘just cleaners’, but in fact the sector’s staff are environmental ninjas working to protect the health and wealth of the nation.

And the industry we represent is hugely important to the nation. The cleaning, hygiene and waste industry is one of the biggest in the UK, worth £59billion and employing 1.47million people.

In 2021, under the leadership of my predecessor as chair, the inspirational Jim Melvin, the British Cleaning Council launched the We Clean, We Care campaign to highlight the pride of staff in their vital, frontline role keeping the public healthy, safe and well. This remains a key message.

The need for recognition for the sector, along with making cleaning and hygiene a national priority going forward were at the centre of the report entitled ‘Embedding Effective Hygiene for a Resilient UK’, produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Cleaning and Hygiene Industry in December last year.

The highly-significant report, which followed a detailed inquiry, made 11 recommendations for Government, regulators, and the industry itself to ensure lessons would be learnt from the national approach to cleaning and hygiene during the Covid-19 pandemic, to boost the UK’s resilience to current common infections and any future public health emergency.

This is clearly an extremely important report that will help save lives in the future. Yet, I regret to say that the Government have so far paid it little attention. 

That’s why the BCC launched a campaign in February to call on industry members to help lobby for its recommendations to be adopted, as part of which I recently wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

We also asked sector staff to download a letter from our website about the report and email it to their MP.

I want to give my sincere thanks to the over 550 colleagues who, at the last count, have taken part.

However, in an industry employing 1.47m people, surely we can muster more support? So, if you haven’t got involved, please give us your backing. It will only take minutes. It is literally a matter of life and death. (Scan the QR code to download a letter).

We at the BCC are determined to continue championing the APPG report and working to bring it to the attention of the Government.

The impact of Brexit and the pandemic

Another important issue is the severe staff shortages which have affected the industry since Brexit and changes in immigration rules, which inaccurately branded our work as unskilled. 

The industry has always employed overseas workers but many left and it is traditionally hard to recruit UK-born workers to replace them.

In the wake of the pandemic, people’s work patterns changed. Many people went on furlough and did not return while others have changed career completely, adding to the recruitment crunch. We desperately need Government support on permits to work to assist us with our staffing fractures.

In some cases, staff who have returned to work have changed, with significant impacts being observed on behaviours with drinking, substance abuse, anxiety and mental health issues becoming a problem.

The toll on NHS staff during the pandemic was immense leaving colleagues exhausted or disillusioned, so there has been a record exodus of staff leaving. It is both astonishing and disappointing that cleaning was not included in the NHS workforce development plan.

The UK labour market remains tight and we in the BCC will continue to call for the kind of help that other industries have received.

In this environment, education and training remain hugely important tools for retaining staff.

Education and training

Workforce development, progression routes and succession planning are essential for staff in organisations and companies to feel valued.

This is particularly important in our sector as cleaning is a science. Staff need to be taught to clean first, disinfect later, to handle chemicals, safely understanding the classification of various types, to be fully aware of the contribution the sector can make to the green agenda and the increasingly important role of technology and the digital platform.

Clearly, ensuring cleaning is done correctly is a matter of life and death in healthcare settings and the correct language is an important part of that. That’s why we are currently working with The Lexicon Project regarding clean hospitals, to compile an agreed glossary of cleaning terms to help educate staff.

it is vital that cleaning is done correctly in all environments, so I believe we need to embrace education and constantly promote the message that training rules. That’s why I was greatly disappointed to hear that Government has withdrawn some funding for training in our sector.

We now have to find alternative ways to resource training. Fortunately, there are other options.

There is a little-known source of funding for adult training which is an excellent option for cleaning companies and their workforce – the Adult Education Budget (AEB).

Local colleges administer AEB funds, which are designed to support work-related training for groups and individuals in their region.

AEB funds can be used to support staff progress in a work role, gain promotion or for a new job and crucially lead to verified, accredited recognised qualifications.

The training can cover any other work-related topic such as management skills and team leadership. Courses may be fully funded or part-funded, where an employer makes a contribution.

If that sounds of interest, ask your local college or training provider about AEB funding. 

In this context, we are over-the-moon that the sector’s bid for an Apprenticeship Standard to teach the technical skills cleaning staff need outside the healthcare sector has finally been approved. In what is a major and exciting development for the industry, we are anticipating the Cleaning Hygiene Operative Apprenticeship (Level 2) to launch early next year.

All sector employers with an annual wage bill of more than £3m pay the Apprenticeship Levy so, until now, up to £20m a year of industry money has been going straight into Government coffers because of the lack of a suitable scheme for many sector firms to invest in.

The new apprenticeship means those Levy funds can now be invested in sector staff. Smaller businesses which have been gifted Levy payments can also take part.

The initiative will help address the ill-informed opinions of some outside the sector that our work is ‘unskilled’, help support the kind of uniform training I have highlighted as essential for our sector, and form a rung on a career ladder that will help attract the new entrants we desperately need.

It was hard to believe that an industry of our size and importance was denied this apprenticeship for so long. 

So please, I urge employers and anyone else interested in finding out more about the new Cleaning Hygiene Operative Apprenticeship to sign up for one of the Zoom information sessions we are staging. Come along and hear all

The free expert-led AAG (Apprenticeship Advice and Guidance) Zoom sessions will detail what the Cleaning Hygiene Operative Apprenticeship means for businesses and how to implement it in the workplace.

AAG sessions are planned for 19, 26 October and 2, 9 and 15 November.

Topics will include:

·        What are the benefits to organisations and individuals in engaging and taking the Apprenticeship qualification?

·        How to access the opportunity – explaining Levy funding

·        How to gift Levy funds and the benefits of gifting

·        How to select a provider – credentials, experience and location

·        Delivery format – mediums to study, assessment and functional skills requirements

·        Curriculum content and routes to progression

·        End Point Assessment (EPA) criteria

Sessions should be booked via admin@britishcleaningcouncil.org

Unspent Apprenticeship Levy payments

We have to seize this fantastic opportunity and make sure there is widespread take up. The Government will be watching the numbers closely. I believe other industries have lost their apprenticeship schemes if businesses have not bought into them. 

I’ve seen reports that billions of pounds of unused Levy funds from sectors across the UK has accumulated. This incredible potential source of investment should not remain untapped.

I am calling on the Government to make unspent Apprenticeship Levy payments available for industry to reinvest in other projects. We want to see millions of pounds of unused cleaning and hygiene sector Levy payments returned so it can be used for the benefit of the sector as a whole. I want to see it used to fund a range of cleaning-related education and training options including practical cleaning skills and beyond.

We are all looking forward to one of the highlights of the industry calendar – the return of the Cleaning Show next year. This time it visits Manchester on March 13 and 14. Do make sure the date is in your diary.

My final message is to urge the cleaning, hygiene and waste sector to stand together and support us at the BCC, to make sure the industry’s voice is heard. Unity is strength!

Delia Cannings is chair at the British Cleaning Council