Wales could go it alone on builder licensing scheme
FMB Cymru director Richard Jenkins is hopeful that the Welsh Assembly will fund a new study into how a licensing scheme for small builders might work in Wales, mirroring a review currently underway at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
But while many people assume that a Westminster government ideologically opposed to regulation would shy away from setting up a new scheme, Jenkins points out that Wales could act on its own.
A cross-party group of Welsh Assembly Members on construction is due to consider the issue of a builders licensing scheme at a meeting on June 18. If it supports further examination of the idea, Jenkins says this could lead to the Welsh government funding a review.
"We need a proper, formal system, where people need a qualification and then go through an accreditation system, so there would be a register [of qualified contractors] backed by a warranty scheme."
Milica Kitson, chief executive, Constructing Excellence for Wales
He told CM: “As Building Regulations have been devolved [to the Welsh Assembly], there’s an argument we could do our own thing in Wales. We’re hoping for funding to come up with a scheme that the industry could accept.”
The current debate over a possible licensing scheme (see web news 10 May) has been triggered by Meg’s Campaign, set up by the parents of three-year-old Meg Burgess. She was killed in Prestatyn when an inadequate newly built wall collapsed on her. Jenkins said that any scheme would therefore have to focus on technical competence, as well as business management issues.
“The contractor involved mostly did landscape stuff, but a licensing scheme could have prevented him doing that [treating a boundary wall as a retaining wall]. If he’d been able to say, ‘I can’t do that, I’d lose my licence’, it might have made a difference.”
He denied that any scheme would be difficult to set up, operate and enforce. “We’re intelligent people, and we can find a way round the problems. But we can’t solve them by ignoring them.”
Support for FMB Cymru’s stance comes from Milica Kitson, chief executive of Constructing Excellence for Wales, although she stressed that the board of CE Wales had not yet taken a position on the issue and she was speaking in a personal capacity.
“Personally, I would support Richard in that campaign,” said Kitson. “I think it’s an absolute must – as we look to make our houses and buildings more energy efficient we need people who understand building physics.
“We need a proper, formal system, where people need a qualification and then go through an accreditation system, so there would be a register [of qualified contractors] backed by a warranty scheme. We should not let a system prevail where you or I could go out the front door and call ourselves a builder.”
While BIS is thought unlikely to set up a new government-backed scheme, Whitehall is understood to believe that better consumer protection would boost confidence and therefore demand in the repair, maintenance and improvement sector.
But the resurgence of the issue has split opinion in the industry, as played out in a debate on the CIOB LinkedIn Group. One commentator, Chris McKenzie Grieve, said: “So far in this debate I have seen no data to suggest any change in direction. How much [of the industry’s turnover] is domestic, how much domestic is carried out by ‘qualified builders’, how much is DIY? How many instances of complaint/issues arose, how many of those were life/property critical? Let’s understand the scale of the problem before we rush to another layer of legislation/regulation.”
Would you support a licensing scheme?
“In principle I support the idea of builder licensing. However, the track record of government in this respect is not good and their approach to those who habitually break the law on tax, VAT, safety, general anti-social behaviour and fraud matters has shown that there is not the will or resources to enforce the laws we currently have.
“Having a system of licensing and licensing enforcement that has teeth would be costly, so who pays for it?
“Who do you punish for using unlicensed builders? The builder probably won’t care, as a fine would be an occupational cost. Punish the customer for using an unlicensed builder? That could be harsh on an 85-year-old lady who has been ripped off!
“The whole thing becomes a dog’s breakfast. I would continue with something like TrustMark.”
Chris Blythe, chief executive, CIOB
“Regulation would probably stagnate the industry even more. A lot of the problem with domestic and small commercial clients is that they’re uninformed. You need a campaign to say “an extension is complex, but this is how you do it”, a public information campaign to dispel the fear that people are out to rip you off. Is there a central regulatory body that could run a helpline?”
Jo Streeten, head of project management, Davis Langdon
“It’s been tried before, with the Quality Mark, but there’s never been enough take up. And public awareness is key, you’d need to launch it to the public, not just the industry. If there was a new scheme we’d give it our full backing and promote it, but unfortunately it’s been tried before and failed.”
Catriona Lingwood, chief executive, Constructing Excellence in the North East
Main photograph: National Assembly for Wales