he may not have a construction background but ian livsey is passionate about stamping out cowboy builders. the man in charge of the trustmark initiative reveals how it will be done.

It is difficult to imagine someone without a construction background developing a fervent desire to work on an industry accreditation scheme. It's not exactly an easy ride: builders are notoriously anti-red tape, and anyone who tries to introduce them to it is unlikely to win many friends.

Ian Livsey, however, is different. The recently appointed chairman of the TrustMark initiative to drive out cowboy builders had barely set foot on a construction site before taking up his position, yet is relishing the task to clean up the murkier reaches of the small building trade. "I believe that to do this job I shouldn't have been involved in the industry before," says Livsey, "as it will be clear to people that TrustMark is not a club. This is a serious initiative. I'm really committed to driving out cowboys."

Since the scheme was launched in January, the burly northerner has been busy acting on that commitment. As the former chief executive of the Guidance Accreditation Board for adult education, he has brought his experience of competency schemes to bear on the fledgling construction initiative.

TrustMark, launched in January, is a £2m government-backed initiative that aims to regulate the smaller end of the building sector by registering reputable firms available for domestic repair, maintenance and improvement work. Four months after the launch, more than 6000 firms have already been licensed and some 300 applications a week are being received.

Although delighted with the progress, Livsey now has the task of keeping his promise that the levels are maintained, and also ensuring that the initiative does not merely become a club for any tradesperson who chooses to join.

Ian Livsey

Photography by Bohdan Cap

Winning support

Although the industry may not take kindly to too much regulation, Livsey says that it is the honest, competent tradesmen who are his biggest supporters. "Nobody hates a cowboy as much as the reputable tradesman," he insists. "Cowboys besmirch the name of the whole trade."

He is so confident in the scheme that he has set a target of 25,000 companies to be registered with TrustMark by this time next year. It's an ambitious target, especially given that Quality Mark - the previous government-backed competency scheme which was dissolved at the end of 2004 - only had 565 member firms when it was wound up.

He is, however, seeking to distance TrustMark from Quality Mark, despite the similar objectives of the two schemes. "We have already achieved a tenfold increase on what Quality Mark achieved at the height of its lifespan," he says. "Quality Mark didn't work, but this is a different scheme."

One crucial difference between the two initiatives is the fact that TrustMark has been developed in partnership with trade associations, meaning tradespeople have been involved from the start. "I think the trade really is behind the scheme," says Livsey. "The trade can see that TrustMark is not ridiculously expensive, it's doing the right things and it's providing consumers with more confidence in the trades."

There are people who are reluctant to have work done because they are frightened they’ll get a cowboy

Registered tradespeople

That confidence will translate into an increase in the amount of work created, claims Livsey - a view supported by the fact that about 300 people are using the TrustMark website every day of the week to search for tradespeople registered with the scheme. "You hear so many horror stories about disreputable firms, and what staggers me is the cost to people involved when they have to have it put right. At the moment, there are people who are reluctant to have work done because they are frightened they'll get a cowboy. TrustMark can change that, and can release more money into the sector."

Livsey is determined that he will reach his membership targets without lowering the scheme's standards. "This is not just some kind of club, where you pay ten quid and get a ticket to join," he says. "And make no doubt about it, we will throw people out if they fail to meet our standards."

He is realistic about what these standards should be. His intention is to differentiate between the competent and the incompetent, not to provide an exclusive badge of excellence. "We're not saying that if you're TrustMark approved you walk on water. We're just saying these are contractors that can do a good job."

Ian Livsey

Photography by Bohdan Cap

Beyond reach

He also knows that there are some sectors of the industry which, for now at least, are beyond TrustMark's reach. "Getting to those who don't pay VAT - the black and grey economies - will be a real problem. But TrustMark is about introducing choice. If consumers have the opportunity to pick from registered firms and they still choose a cowboy, they'll know they can't complain when things go wrong. With us, they can."

The scheme incorporates measures to ensure that its standards are upheld (see box, left). Although it is operated through affiliated scheme operators - including trade and commercial bodies - which are authorised to award TrustMark status to qualifying members, TrustMark itself is committed to independently policing the scheme.

This provides a double safeguard for consumers, which is something close to Livsey's heart. One of his first experiences of bodged building jobs came some years ago, when he returned to his Worcestershire cottage after a walk in the country. "There were 11 doors being put in while I was out," he recalls. "I came back to find that all 11 had been put on the wrong way round."

This incident is still fresh in his mind and is one that he frequently uses to persuade consumers of the value of TrustMark. And today, as chairman of TrustMark, he finally has the chance to hit back at the cowboys.

What the TrustMark logo means

  • A firm’s technical competence, trading record and financial position is checked by an approved scheme operator
  • Firms must adhere to a code of practice covering insurance, health and safety and customer care
  • Customers will be informed of any building regulations that must be met
  • There will be a clear and user-friendly procedure for dealing with complaints
  • If the firm does not provide insurance cover customers will be given the option to buy a warranty