FMB: Honour Grenfell victims with new compulsory registration scheme for builders

Posted On: 
10th May 2018

Brian Berry, the Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), calls for the Government to implement a licensing scheme for all builders and contractors in the UK. 

The FMB launched its Agenda: Raising the Bar: A post-Grenfell agenda for quality and professionalism in construction in the House of Commons on the 9 May.
PA Images

As things stand, anyone in this country can call themselves a builder and operate without any formal qualifications or registration. Meanwhile electricians and gas engineers must be accredited to work.

It is this quirk that has prompted Brian Berry, the Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), to call for the Government to implement a licensing scheme for all builders and contractors in the UK.

This licensing scheme, Berry tells PoliticsHome, will fulfil several goals; combate perception issues within the sector by promoting professionalism, assuage consumers’ concerns about quality, address a growing skills shortage and flush out rogue or incompetent builders from the industry.

“Given that building projects run into several thousands of pounds, even hundreds of thousands of pounds, there is a real need to protect the consumer. Rogue traders put consumers and workers at risk and undermine the reputation of professional and competent firms.” he explains.

“A licensing scheme would stop those inclined to cut corners on quality and safety from entering into the industry. It would help to improve health and safety compliance among smaller firms. A basic health and safety test could be included as an entry criterion for a mandatory register.”

“We think there needs to be a license scheme to improve standards in the building industry and to give confidence to consumers that the builder they are using is competent and if things go wrong it can be put right.”

Berry says the Government has so far been reluctant to introduce new regulations or licensing. “It’s got caught up in the mantra of regulation is not good,” he adds. However, he argues that regulation is “often there for a purpose” and believes that the Grenfell tragedy has changed the agenda.

“Grenfell has changed the agenda somewhat. Where any form of regulation was pooh-poohed, I think there is an acceptance that something needs to be done to prevent any further catastrophes in the building industry,” he says.

“It’s a good time to learn the lessons of what happened and actually to honour the 72 people who lost their lives and say that’s not in vein, things need to change.

“I think this is all part of that debate going forward.

“We genuinely feel this would improve lives, improve the reputation of the building industry and protect consumers.”

So, how would the licensing scheme work in practice? Berry says there would have to be entry-level criteria for a firm to become accredited, such as the existence of an insurance indemnity scheme, financial checks, a test on competence to assess the company can “do the work it says it can do”, and site inspections to ensure health and safety requirements are being adhered to.

An independent body would oversee the licensing scheme, Berry says. He is relaxed about what form this takes.

“Where that comes from, because you could adapt the TrustMark model, you could look at some of the trade bodies – but I think they would have to be a separate organisation to give it robustness and independence,” he says.

Concerns surrounding so-called cowboy builders are especially prevalent in the repair, maintenance and improvement market, in which many FMB members operate.

“Most people in the building industry and construction sector are doing a fantastic job. It’s a very big sector, it’s not just builders – architects and designers, chartered surveyors. But I think often the cowboy image, which you often see on TV, colours the perception about going into the construction sector,” Berry says.

“If we can tackle that by saying a builder is someone who matches up to the criteria in terms of competence and skill, then I think that can only be helpful transforming the sometimes-negative image that our industry has.”

Central to the FMB’s vision for the proposed scheme is the positive effect it will have for consumers. “If someone employs a building company and it goes wrong, who do they go to? They can contact trading standards, but trading standards have very limited capacity. Or they go down the legal route, maybe take that company to court – but that firm can liquidate themselves and avoid paying the homeowner any money,” says Berry.

“So, this licensing scheme would need to have a pretty robust consumer complaints handling process and have some teeth so they could actually expel the company or make them pay fines.”

What happens if this scheme is not introduced? “We will just carry on as we are at the moment. I think we’ll still hear stories about cowboy builders, we will still hear about consumers who’ve been ripped off, we’ll still have those awful TV programs showing all the worst of what happens in the building industry. I think the ambition would be to stop those programmes from being broadcast because they wouldn’t be happening,” he says.

This vision comes concurrently alongside Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report into building regulations and fire safety, which is due to be published this month. The interim report, which came out in February, spelled out failures of systems and processes within the construction sector.

“What Dame Judith means by that actually, is the lack of accountability which runs through the whole supply chain,” Berry continues.

“That means everyone taking responsibility and that would mean builders as well recognising that what they do has an impact and therefore it should be done to the highest standard. It’s not about making as much money as we can in the shortest amount of time and moving on.”

The FMB launched its Agenda: Raising the Bar: A post-Grenfell agenda for quality and professionalism in construction in the House of Commons on the 9 May. The agenda includes a three-pronged plan:

  • A licensing system for all construction firms
  • Mandatory warranties for Building Control-approved work
  • A new ‘general builder’ qualification

“We’re not advocating licensing or regulation for the sake of it,” says Berry as we wrap up our conversation.

“We genuinely believe that there is a case to be made to improve the standards in the building industry. Given that there is a growing skills shortage in the building industry, we need to do all we can to make our industry look attractive to young people wanting to come into it and not end up in construction because they’ve ended up there by default.”