Ian Livsey, head of the new TrustMark accreditation scheme, wants to banish cowboy builders from the market. But how will he get the industry on side?

Ian Livsey knows how it feels to be ripped off by cowboy builders – when he had his house decorated, walls were painted the wrong colour and they put the wrong doors in. But in future, those builders may think twice about doing shoddy work for this particular customer. Last month he was made chairman of TrustMark, an accreditation scheme for building companies run by the DTI, which is charged with endorsing companies that reach trade association standards.

It is a role to which he seems well suited. Between 1998 and 2003, when Livsey was chief executive of the Guidance Accreditation Board, he set up a similar accreditation scheme to maintain standards in adult education. He also says his private sector experience with the likes of BP International as an economist and Shell as a section head will help him understand the needs of companies that are affected by the scheme.

But before Livsey can start to rid the UK of dubious tradesmen, he must first fight another battle: calming industry fears that TrustMark is doomed to the same failure as its predecessor, the Quality Mark, which closed on 31 December 2004. To help kick off the debate, Building asked Livsey to respond to your questions and concerns.

The Quality Mark scheme was a miserable failure. Why should I believe TrustMark won’t go the same way?

Member, Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association:

Because it’s different. Everyone recognises that Quality Mark failed, but we’ve learned from it. TrustMark is much more of a partnership. By working with trade associations, it is now something we’re doing with the trade, rather than to it. Quality Mark actually didn’t do that and I’m not surprised it had problems. Also, the new assessment criteria are a lot more consumer-focused and less institutionally driven – there’s less about tax [it does require financial checks but you don’t need to submit annual accounts or financial records].

How soon will TrustMark be launched and how will it be launched?

John Longworth, John Dutton & Partners:

We had a trade launch in July and, at the start of National Consumer Week on 31 October, construction minister Alun Michael will come to an event to talk to the consumer organisations and the trade. Then hopefully in January we will have a major consumer launch. We’ve got a rapid five months, because I want to ensure that when we say, “TrustMark is here”, it is, and that when we tell consumers, “You can access a TrustMark organisation”, they can.

The sort of people I work for don’t use computers – so when TrustMark is promoted, how will it reach them?

Member, HVCA:

We’ve taken on a PR agency, Cow PR, who spent their own money doing research about where consumers find information about tradesmen. It came down to word-of-mouth and local media, so we’ll use TV, we’ll use local and national newspapers, we’ll use the internet, and we’ll also work through parish magazines and local councils. And we’ll get the message to particularly vulnerable groups through bodies like Citizens Advice Bureau, Age Concern and the Women’s Institute.

The householder will always go for the cheapest quote, so won’t being a member of TrustMark lose me business because I will have to pass on the costs to the customer?

Member, HVCA:

That’s a specious argument. I’m not sure the householder always does go for the cheapest quote, and if they go to a TrustMark organisation they know can get the job done as they want it. With all accreditation schemes people say, “This is going to cost me money, I’ll be disadvantaged.” But it’s nonsense – it will actually gain more business for the company. And if you spread out £10 over the whole year, which is the fee to builders, I can’t see it making a difference.

How will TrustMark work in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Jim Morrison, Construction Enterprises:

We’ve had a very good relationship with Scotland and are in constant dialogue because we think TrustMark and the Construction Licensing Executive accreditation scheme are comparable. We’re quite relaxed that we can work together. As far as I’m aware there isn’t a comparable scheme in Northern Ireland, it’s just about how we introduce TrustMark there. The DTI is talking to their equivalent in Northern Ireland, but once that has all gone through then we can start to engage.

During 20 years in business I have never joined any trade organisation (except CORGI, which is mandatory). Why should I make an exception for TrustMark?

No name supplied:

TrustMark is a scheme the smart players will get into because I think it will add value to a business. It will be good for your business because when consumers pick it up then, if you aren’t in the scheme, you won’t get chosen and 20 years in business might well end at 22 years. The scheme will also be good because it will raise the credibility of the whole industry. And you don’t have to be in a trade association to be in TrustMark: you can get commercial certification through one of the independent certification bodies.

Will there be extra assessments involved or will those we undergo as part of a membership of trade association bodies be sufficient?

Paul Stokes, Bowling Garrard:

They’re sufficient. As long as the proposed scheme from the trade association certification body meets our requirements, which is one of the conditions to become an approved scheme operator, then that will be managed by the trade association. We won’t then add any tests on that.

Will TrustMark be compulsory for working with local authorities on, say, grant-aided repairs and improvement work?

Robin Pennycook, RS Pennycook:

This is a tricky one. Local government legislation means it can’t be compulsory, but what local authorities can do is recommend to organisations with grants that they follow TrustMark standards.

It can’t be compulsory, but we’d probably expect some authorities to adopt TrustMark as their standard.

What will happen to the promotion of the scheme in two years’ time when the funding from government stops?

Nigel Pound, FDP Building:

We’ve got £2m from the Department for Trade and Industry, but if we get 25,000 builders we will be able to cover the costs. The scheme will be self-financing if it covers its running costs, it is financially stable as a business and it has enough money in it to continue to promote schemes annually. TrustMark will have built-in PR costs every year so we can continue to promote it. If we get to two years from now and we’re not self-financing I’ll have to have discussions with the DTI.

TrustMark demystified …

What is TrustMark? 
It is a DTI-endorsed accreditation scheme that means consumers looking for a builder can easily see those who meet trade associations’ standards by looking for the TrustMark logo.

How can I become accredited?
 Members of TrustMark-approved trade associations will automatically fall under the scheme’s umbrella because their service already makes the grade. Companies not currently in a trade association can become accredited through a TrustMark-approved independent certification body, or by joining an approved trade association.

How much will it cost? 

It is estimated TrustMark will cost member companies £10 a year.