Internet firm Improveline in talks with department over marketing and organisation of flagging quality mark.

The DETR has held a series of meetings with dot-com firm Improveline to discuss taking over part of the government’s troubled anti-cowboy quality mark scheme.

Improveline, which offers the public lists of vetted builders on its web site, said it was in discussions to take over the marketing and data management of the scheme.

The DETR denied that talks were in progress, but Rod Lewis, Improveline’s general manager, said meetings were regularly taking place.

He said: “We approached them because we believe the scheme needs a marketing push to get the message across to potential members.

“To expand, the quality mark clearly needs some good marketing and to be understood by those who have been asked to take it up. If it is perceived by firms as a good idea then everyone will want to take it up, and they appear not to at the moment.”

Lewis said several meetings have taken place since June with a senior member of the DETR’s quality mark team.

The meetings began shortly after Tony Merricks, the head of the anti-cowboy taskforce, criticised dot-com services for not vetting builders thoroughly enough.

At the time Merricks also ruled out any link between the quality mark scheme and dot-com firms, saying that the scheme would eventually go on-line in its own right.

The quality mark scheme has had a lukewarm reception from the industry and has undergone several changes since its launch. The application form was shortened from six to four pages after complaints that it was too complicated. Accreditation is now based on site inspection rather than information on forms.

It is thought unlikely that any changes to the management of the quality mark scheme will affect its vetting procedures, but it is not known if firms would continue to pay the £500 signing up fee, or if other funding would be found.

The DETR has not yet disclosed how many firms will have to sign up to the pilots before the scheme is rolled out nationally.

Lewis said: “Managing the scheme is a data management issue. You have to manage the flood when it comes but you have to create the flood in the first place.”

Top advertising agency BDHTBWA was hired to breathe life into the flagging campaign earlier this year.

The scheme, which has fallen two months behind schedule, is currently being piloted in Birmingham and Somerset with the aim of launching it nationally by early 2001.