Drive out the cowboys to boost RMI demand, industry told

16 May 2013

The government believes that slack private sector demand is linked to the general public’s poor perception of the industry and should be tackled with a new campaign to squeeze out “cowboy” builders, according to sources.

And measures to raise domestic clients’ confidence in the industry will also be one of the recommendations from the “image of the industry” working group feeding into the forthcoming Industrial Strategy for Construction, due to be published on 2 July.  

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and its minister for construction, Michael Fallon, are believed to have drawn a link between low private sector demand and the general perception that commissioning a domestic or small commercial project is a risk-laden lottery.  

BIS recently responded to pressure group Meg’s Campaign – which wants to see a mandatory licensing scheme for domestic contractors – by commissioning external consultants to report on how similar licensing schemes work in other countries.

"If you're not going for a monolithic licensing system, how do you use the same system? We've got to lift the bar on accountability and consumer protection."

TrustMark chairman Liz Male

Although the report has not yet been completed, it is thought unlikely that BIS would support the creation of a new licensing scheme or body. However, industry sources say that the government does want to see far better consumer protection measures put in place – both for their own sake and to boost demand for small-scale private projects.

The Federation of Master Builders and TrustMark, the umbrella organisation for 30 scheme operators across the industry, have both declared themselves ready to offer beefed up schemes that would set higher standards for member companies.  

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “The government acknowledges there’s a problem with the image [of the domestic sector] which is having a negative impact on the image of construction as a whole. So we ought to be making better use of what already exists, so organisations like the FMB should be part of the solution.

Berry added that he had discussed the issue with BIS officials and Hansford. “There appears to be a coalescing of interests to tackle the issue of image and raising standards. It hasn’t happened for a long time, but there’s now a willingness for the industry to tackle it.”

“We’re looking at our entry criteria, and at inspecting all our members on a regular basis [every three years]. We could also extend our code of practice to include conduct, and we’ll look at insurance products and warranties.” 

The government wants better consumer protection measures. Photo: Editor B

Meanwhile, TrustMark is already toughening up its “core criteria” – the underlying standards its 30 members have to meet in setting entry and performance criteria for member companies. The revised criteria are being discussed with BIS and are due to be published this summer.  

TrustMark chairman Liz Male said their publication could be “an ideal opportunity to relaunch TrustMark in the public eye and give it a higher profile”.

“If you’re not going for a monolithic licensing system, how do you use the same system? We’ve got to lift the bar on accountability and consumer protection.

“What excites me is that the domestic repair, maintenance and improvement sector is suddenly centre stage, partly because of the Green Deal, and getting the domestic sector sorted is a high priority.”

The need for a new approach to consumer protection is also on a list of recommendations drawn up the “image of the industry” working group, one of eight workstreams reporting to chief construction adviser Peter Hansford. The others are skills; overseas trade; supply chain; access to finance; whole life value; SMEs and innovation.

Alasdair Reisdner, external affairs director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association and co-ordinator of the groups, told CM: “We have been looking at issues that affect the industry, including the informal sector, where there are what can only be described as cowboy builders. There have been various efforts to address it, but none have worked, so it would be surprising if any strategy we drew up didn’t tackle the issue.”


Different bodies for the industry do not work, it is about time the government bought in a licensing scheme, which should force all building companies to show they are competent and safe. This could be done though all having to pass CSCS card test, and then the same for building regulations. Until we get this there will always be cowboys who will undercut good builders.

Jeff Ive, 10 May 2013

In 2000 I produced an extensive in depth report entitled 'Combating Cowboy Builders' (A copy of the report can be found in the University of Derby).I predicted then that the quality mark scheme would not work in its current format. This was proved to be true. The same issues still need to be addressed today as those of 13 years ago. At the time I offered a copy of my report to the DOE but their representative was not that interested. My recommendations then are the same today, only now the VAT rate is a staggering 20% and we have even more consumer organisations and less funds to promote the best route for the consumer.
The most important body that has got on board to instil consumer confidence at a local level is Derbyshire County Councils Trading Standards TRUSTED TRADER SCHEME it is affordable and totally impartial. This model is being rolled out across the country unfortunately in an uncoordinated manner.
Could I suggest that all bodies take a step back, carry out proper research as I did and make a more informed decision before embarking on such a complex area to deal with.
Denis Barry BSc Hons, ICIOB.

Denis Barry, 10 May 2013

In my opinion I feel that the home owner is as much to blame as the "cowboy builder". If the home owner employed the services of a quantity surveyor who can produce a B.O.Q then the home owner & builder alike would know exactly what is to be priced for. Furthermore if the C.I.O.B promoted themselves effectively towards the public then perhaps M.C.I.O.B members could act as an independent consultant who, for a fee, can advise on what type of C.I.O.B or J.C.T contract to use & to visit the site on a weekly basis to monitor progress?

John Williamson, 12 May 2013

What do professional builders have to fear from builder registration/ licensing? Architects, gas installers, electrics, new windows ... all controlled.
Clients, especially 'one-off' clients, old people etc deserve to have access to recompense through insurances etc and 'the nation' needs its VAT to pay for writing and enforcement of regulations, courts, prisons etc vs cowboys.

Brian Wood, 24 May 2013

Leave a comment