Minister tells parliamentary debate on construction that Birmingham pilot has “chicken and egg” problem.

Construction minister Nick Raynsford admitted last week that builders in Birmingham had been reluctant to sign up to the DETR’s anti-cowboy quality mark pilot.

Speaking at a special parliamentary debate on the future of construction last Thursday, Raynsford told MPs that although 250 builders had expressed interest, there was still a “chicken and egg” problem.

“Builders will not be keen to sign up until they see positive results, as consumers start to place orders. Equally, the scheme cannot be promoted to the public until enough builders have signed up,” he said.

Responding to criticism about the delays to the Birmingham pilot , Raynsford also reiterated his promise to consider statutory measures against cowboy builders if the voluntary scheme fails. “If it is clear that the voluntary scheme cannot work, I would have no hesitation in looking at this again. There would be no question of pride,” he said. His remarks came in the same week as the launch of a second voluntary pilot scheme in the Somerset area.

Former Tory construction minister Tony Baldry said he wanted a mandatory scheme, and that the Constructors Liaison Group and the Federation of Master Builders backed his stance. He added that if the voluntary scheme proved ineffective, it would penalise the good builders who did sign up to it. “Good builders might think they would be better off with the cowboys,” he said.

Raynsford also responded to MPs’ concerns about a training crisis within the industry. He said: “This issue has come up repeatedly in the debate and is clearly something that has to be addressed urgently.”

Tory MP and former architect Sir Sydney Chapman called for the government to offer construction trainees similar perks to those being offered for student teachers, who receive £6000 when they complete their courses.

He said: “Perhaps that sort of arrangement should be targeted at parts of the construction industry to attract engineers and the other skilled craftsmen.”

Liberal Democrat MP David Chidgey said the depth of the training crisis was demonstrated by the fact that “half the structural engineers in the country are now employed not just from Europe but from further afield. We are importing the basic skills of engineering that we took for granted in Victorian times”.

In an earlier debate in the House of Commons, junior minister Malcolm Wicks said the government would consider making it mandatory for construction companies to register with the Construction Industry Training Board.