Gordon Nelson: A construction industry licensing scheme could hold many benefits

Gordon Nelson: A construction industry licensing scheme could hold many benefits

Gordon Nelson

FMB’s Scotland director Gordon Nelson welcomes a recent initiative on construction quality and shares the latest on licensing the construction industry.

Quality and high standards. Easily said, much harder to practice and consistently deliver across and within the construction industry. Both are habits of professional building firms: our members know this and they expect the FMB to continue to champion both. The FMB notes the recent launch of the Construction Quality Improvement Collaborative (CQIC) in Scotland. More campaigns and initiatives for improving construction quality and developing a wider quality culture are welcome. But these can only take us so far.

That in every nation of the UK, any person or company is legally allowed to undertake construction work without having to demonstrate a minimum level of competence is a scourge for building firms operating in the domestic sector. This is why there is consistently strong support amongst FMB members for the introduction of a mandatory licensing system. This would professionalise the industry, protect consumers and side-line unprofessional and incompetent building firms.

The continued prevalence of rogue and incompetent builders remains a serious concern. These firms undercut professional builders and put downward pressure on standards and compliance, seriously undermining the image of the whole industry. On a wider scale, research from the Get it Right Initiative shows that the total cost of errors and the consequential reworks in UK construction could be in the order of £10-£25 bn PA. So another benefit of a robust licensing scheme would be economic with productivity gains for our industry.

The FMB’s own membership criteria involves the vetting of and independent inspection of prospective and current members. The majority of which are small or micro-sized construction firms. We have a standards committee whose remit is to protect the reputation and interests of the FMB, our members, and the clients of our members.

However, membership of the FMB is voluntary. Other countries including Germany and parts of Australia and the US, have a statutory licensing system for construction. Closer to our shores, the Building Control Bill in the Republic of Ireland is designed to put the Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI) on a statutory footing for the registration of builders, building services contractors, and specialist contractors.

At the Professional Builder’s Tool Fair in Bolton earlier this month an audience of building contractors shared their views with me on the topic of licensing. So what did builders from across Lancashire and Greater Manchester have to say about licensing? In short, their views are very similar to those expressed to me by our members in Scotland. Licensing is supported, provided that the scope is right and the system is underpinned by robust sanctions. So what next?

The FMB’s Licence to Build Report put forward recommendations on how licensing could work in the UK. Consumer protection is reserved to Westminster so my colleagues in London are now working with the Government to factor licensing construction into the new regulatory structure, that was formed post Grenfell Tower tragedy. Now this is still very early days and civil servants are consulting with a wide range of organisations to work out what a fully-fledged licensing regime would look like.

In Scotland, the pre-emptive building standards system, and the work of the Building Standards Futures Board to strengthen it and boost compliance with the building regulations evidences the drive to push and promote quality. The ambitions of the Scottish Construction Accord and the CQIC’s quality charter will require genuine acceptance and buy in across the industry. At the FMB we will work to support both, whilst at the same time we will continue to lobby on licensing UK construction.

Share icon
Share this article: