Trial scheme in Birmingham postponed until April because of fears over qualifications.
Construction minister Nick Raynsford’s scheme to outlaw cowboy builders has missed its first deadline because builders called for changes to the criteria for evaluating firms.

The first pilot was due to be launched in Birmingham this week, but a technical committee of builders in the city asked for some assessment tests to be revised.

Stephen Walker, the government’s cowboy tsar, confirmed that the scheme was two months behind schedule but said the Birmingham launch would be in April at the latest. Consumers will be able to check if a firm has the taskforce’s quality mark in May or June.

Walker said: “The technical group has recommended a number of changes to the assessment criteria. We have delayed the launch to late March or early April to allow the BRE to work these recommendations into its criteria. We want to launch a credible scheme and there is no point in doing something that the industry does not find workable.”

Chris Judge, quality and certification manager at BRE Certification confirmed that he was revising the BRE’s original proposals.

He said: “One of the worries is that the scheme and the assessment criteria will have training implications.

“There is a concern that people without formal training will have a question mark over their skill level. There are some excellent people out there without formal qualifications, but the scheme will encourage people to take national vocational qualifications.”

Walker added: “Builders may fall below the level of British Standards through no fault of their own. Some builders may have completed a trade apprenticeship but failed to keep their knowledge up to date.

The launch has been delayed to April to allow the BRE to work these changes into its criteria

Stephen Walker, Cowboy TSAR

“What we need is a criterion that enables an assessor to say their work can reflect the British Standards.”

He said builders were also concerned about tests to prove that a company was reputable.

Walker said: “If we look at company accounts, what is an acceptable set of accounts? Small builders may not have accounts, only tax returns. The builder may still provide a good service and be reputable, so we need a wide range of criteria to look at his finances.”

A DETR spokesperson said: “We are in the process of ensuring that all stakeholder groups sign up to the scheme. We are confident that the scheme will meet its revised timetable.”

Tony Merricks, who was in charge of the DETR working group on cowboy builders, said: “The technical group is doing exactly what it was asked to do. We are not under a time pressure that means we will push a scheme on the industry that no one wants.”

The delay to the scheme means that the second phase, which was due to be launched in Somerset in April, will now not begin until late summer.