But government set to ignore unpublished study showing huge backing for quality mark “with teeth”.
Government research has confirmed that the public is overwhelmingly in favour of statutory regulation to outlaw cowboy builders, even though the DETR is still insisting on a voluntary scheme to protect the public.

A 100-page report compiled by London-based Creative Research shows that although the public favour the quality mark system to identify reputable builders, it wants this given “teeth”.

The report, seen by Building this week but not released by the DETR, was researched in May in rural areas, in small and medium-sized town and in cities, and used in-depth interviews and focus groups.

The report says: “Attitudes towards the [quality mark] scheme were largely positive with just about everyone feeling it was a good idea.” One individual even described it as fantastic.

But the report says public enthusiasm cooled when subjects were told more about the quality mark, and notes: “We suspect that the only way to guarantee that the positive attitudes will translate into positive behaviour would be to make registration to the scheme compulsory.”

Creative Research’s finding are in line with an NOP poll published by Building in June, which showed that 89% of homeowners want legislation to outlaw cowboys. The Construction Industry Council also shares this view, and has lobbied the DETR over statutory regulation.

The Creative Research report says: “Certainly, those people who doubted that the scheme itself would get under way often saw this as the only way they felt it could work.”

The report also reveals that the appeal of the quality mark may be more limited than the DETR imagines. It shows that consumers who are primarily price driven are happy to pay cash. “These individuals are unlikely to respond to the proposed scheme and we suggest most of them will continue to behave as they do now,” states the report. Some better-off consumers would use the quality mark, but others would continue to employ builders they know, as long as they felt in control.

Nearly all those interviewed emphasised that it was vital that the DETR launched a high-profile advertising campaign to promote the quality mark. The report concludes that “without this type of heavyweight campaign, there is a very real possibility the scheme will fail to register with the general public”, and it suggests several names for the mark, including Homes, Ticks, Hallmarks, Handshakes and Seals.

Final tactics for implementing the quality mark have still to be decided by the DETR, and are subject to final recommendations from a working party led by Stent chairman Tony Merricks.

But ministers’ determination to avoid early legislation to outlaw the cowboys has not been diluted, even by their own research.

Asked if the report had had any impact, construction minister Nick Raynsford said: “We are keen to get a scheme up and running and there is too little parliamentary time to get legislation through quickly.

“Rather than wait, we’d like to get going, and there is always the option that if the voluntary scheme fails we will explore the option of legislation.” But some industry sources are aghast at the DETR’s insistence on continuing with the voluntary scheme, arguing that if outlawing cowboy builders was a real priority, parliamentary time would be found.

One source said: “This research backs the case for doing this whole thing properly. It has somewhat embarrassed the DETR and now seems to have just been treated as a sideshow.”