Transforming the industry for the better

Sarah McMonagle of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), explains the organisation’s three point plan to reform the sector’s approach to quality, in the wake of Grenfell.

Let’s be honest, the construction industry does not have the greatest image in the world. There is a significant minority of individuals and firms operating in our industry who tarnish the otherwise good reputation of the majority. In addition, and more recently, the Hackitt Review into Building Regulations, established following the Grenfell tragedy, has raised serious questions about competency, regulation and compliance, which have implications for the industry beyond the particulars of fire safety for high-rise buildings.

The FMB believes that now is the right time to draw a line in the sand and has set out a radical agenda to dramatically drive up quality and professionalism across the construction sector. Although the housebuilding sector may be less plagued by rogue outfits than other parts of the industry, we believe that the incompe- tence which is allowed to freely continue in some parts of the sector has negative knock-on effects for us all. Unprofessional elements in one part of the sector can never be entirely quaran- tined from other parts of the sector. The damage done to reputation and recruitment and in raising risk levels across the industry can be entirely escaped by very few.

The FMB recently published a bold new vision designed to address this called ‘Raising the bar: A post-Grenfell agenda for quality and professionalism in construction’. The Agenda is a three-point plan, which calls for radical reform in the way the sector is regulated. Firstly, it calls on the Government to introduce a licensing scheme for the entirety of the UK construction sector. There are simply too many firms out there (primarily though not solely in the domes- tic repair, maintenance and improvement market) which lack the necessary knowledge and competence and pose a risk to themselves and their clients. The fact is, we will never be able to fully remove these elements from our industry until we can set, and legally enforce, a minimum level of competence. Only a licensing system would do this.

A licensing system could further be used to promote and drive up technical competence, customer service, financial good conduct, and health and safety compliance. The potential benefits to the wider industry are enormous. Gaining and renewing a licence would provide an invaluable means of enabling upskilling and continued professional development, in terms of technical competence, regulatory understanding and management skills. The FMB needs to demonstrate wider support for licensing if it is going to be successful in driving this idea forwards, so we are keen to involve anybody who would like to support the idea in principle. If you are in support, please consider writing to your MP to alert them to our campaign.

The second point in the FMB’s new Agenda calls for the introduction of mandatory warranties for all building projects that require Building Control sign-off. Warranties are already a standard feature of the new homes market, but given the expense normally involved, and the significant scope for things to go wrong, we believe that warranties should be a standard feature of all building work.

No one would think of paying £50,000 for a car without a warranty, yet too often people pay more than that for building work that comes with no warranty at all. A mandatory warranty require- ment would address this failure and deliver a further level of protection for consumers. It would also enable the insurance industry to provide greater consumer assurance in the construction industry. And furthermore, by intro- ducing an official paper trail for nearly all work, we believe mandatory warranties would serve to all-but-eliminate the cash-in-hand economy.

The final part of the FMB’s Agenda calls for the development of a new qualification for general builders to act as a benchmark for quality. It would also aid the transition which so many make from general tradesperson to general builder/contractor. We believe that this is a plan which would transform our industry for the better and deliver the professionalised industry, fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century, that we all want to belong to.