Drive out the cowboys to boost RMI demand, industry told
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.”