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Working Lunch Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 15:39 GMT
Rounding up the cowboys
Workmen
The aim's to improve tradesmen's standards
The government is aiming to clamp down on cowboy builders by offering firms who meet high standards a discount on their insurance.

Like many other businesses, construction firms have seen the premiums for employers' and public liability insurance shoot up.

The growing compensation culture and the effects of 11 September are blamed for the price hike.

But the building industry is also suffering because of its poor accident record.

Quality Mark logo
The scheme is going nationwide
It has made repeated appeals for help to the government, which has decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Firms which sign up to the Quality Mark Scheme will be entitled to a 20% reduction in liability insurance premiums.

"That's really one of the carrots now to get building firms to sign up for Quality Mark," says Construction Minister Brian Wilson.

The problem of cowboy builders is proving hard to tackle.

Complaints

Each year, trading standards officers receive 100,000 complaints about construction work.

Construction minister Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson: It's the top consumer problem
"It's the number one consumer problem," says Mr Wilson, "and this is the first serious attempt by government and industry working together to address it."

To earn the Quality Mark, tradesmen must be assessed by independent inspectors.

Following pilot schemes in Birmingham and Somerset, it is being rolled out across the country.

A survey this week showed that:

  • 51% of people do not trust tradesmen
  • 40% would never use someone who isn't approved
  • 54% would pay more to use an approved tradesman.

    It is also hoped that raising standards in the industry might help to improve its safety record.

    In the year to April 2002, there were 79 fatal accidents on building sites - that's one-third of all workplace deaths.

    Window cleaners

    But while builders might be able to benefit from cheaper insurance, the government is not ignoring the fact that businesses in all areas are finding it hard to meet their premiums.

    It's affecting everyone from window cleaners to financial advisers.

    It's thought 18,000 businesses are trading illegally because they have no liability insurance, though the true figure could be much higher.

    "The government is looking across the range of sectors which are affected to see what we can do to help, working with the insurance industry and trade associations, so there might well be a wider initiative," says Brian Wilson.

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    Construction Minister Brian Wilson
    "We are trying to create an incentive"
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