trustmark has the potential to pull local anti-cowboy initiatives together and strengthen consumer confidence, says Paul Ramsden, Deputy Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute and trustmark board member
It has been a fascinating year working on the board of TrustMark. My experience of the building industry has not always been very good - part of the territory, I suppose, when working in trading standards and having to deal with rogue traders of all sorts. But my experience of TrustMark has brought several surprises, not least seeing the commitment by trade associations and other organisations involved in getting the scheme going.
When we first started out to design a scheme that would really work, the task was substantial. It involved much debate and a degree of pain to agree minimum standards that surpass the codes of practice of even the best trade associations in the building industry.
I have been pleased to see how, even when faced with some fundamental disagreements, the members of the forum have shown their willingness to sit next to each other and find a route through. Nobody ever loses sight of the main objectives.
TrustMark now operates with seed funding from the government, but it must be self-financing by this time next year and this, I believe, has led to a real focus on encompassing and engaging with some of the most influential organisations in the sector.
What I like most about the scheme is that it imposes standards over and above the norm, and it has requirements that would prevent many from joining without major rule changes. The fact that so many building industry groups have embraced these standards is a credit to the industry, and rightly bestows an element of credibility to many good businesses across the UK.
What the Department of Trade and Industry, industry groups and consumer protection organisations like my own have tried to achieve in TrustMark is a successful, pragmatic solution to the bad press heaped on the home repair, maintenance and improvement sector.
This reflects the aims and objectives of the trading standards community generally - supporting reputable businesses, identifying rogue traders who can be targeted and removed from the market, and empowering consumers with the confidence to make informed choices when appointing tradespeople.
TrustMark imposes standards over and above the norm, and has requirements that would prevent many from joining without rule changes
TSI has a place at the table, influencing where possible in the best interests of the profession. It's far better to be a part and included than on the outside trying to get in, or worse, criticising from afar.
There is much that trading standards can offer to TrustMark. There is best practice demonstrated by local "good trader" schemes that could and should be shared, and local trading standards are much better at engaging with the "micro-traders" - the handymen and very small businesses that are so critical to some groups of the community. These are standards I will continue to press for.
There is a great opportunity to bring together local schemes and the national TrustMark brand. Admittedly, the resourcing and commitment to local good trader schemes varies between local authorities. Could TrustMark become an umbrella body to bring the disparate schemes together? It's worth a thought.
Whatever the outcome, I'm committed to taking forward the trading standards agenda as a TrustMark board member and facilitating discussions with local schemes. We all recognise that working in partnership to achieve our collective aims and objectives is better all round.
TrustMark, local good trader schemes and the OFT's Consumer Codes of Approval Scheme all strengthen the marketplace. By continuing to work together we can reduce consumer confusion and make it impossible for rogue traders and scams to continue.