Raynsford tries to kickstart anti-cowboy pilots by slashing £350 off registration, but builders won't join.
CONTRACTORS WERE this week dismissing construction minister Nick Raynsford's latest attempt to rescue his ailing anti-cowboy-builder initiative.

In a letter sent on Wednesday, Raynsford offered to knock £350 off the £500 registration fee for small builders. The discount also applies to the £900 fee for contractors with turnover of more than £100 000.

Raynsford's letter received short shrift from contractors in the Birmingham and Somerset areas where the quality mark scheme is being piloted.

Local contractors said all 30 council members at a recent meeting of the Birmingham branch of the Federation of Master Builders decided not to join the scheme.

Fred Shorters, managing director of Birmingham contractor Metrogold, was not persuaded by the offer.

He said: "This scheme is aimed at one man and his wheelbarrow. After the initial fee there are a lot of add-ons to assess training and so on. These costs mean the scheme will not get off the ground."

Branch president Edward Harris, who is managing director of Birmingham contractor Young and Harris, added: "Raynsford is wasting his time in Birmingham.

My turnover is around £1m. If I joined I would still end up paying out about £12 000. How can I recoup that money?"

To qualify for the discount, firms must apply to join the scheme before 16 February. It is expected that the DETR will make up the shortfall.

Trade associations have been asked to play a leading role in publicising the initiative to the industry and consumers when it is launched to the public.

This was urged by the quality mark's manager Stephen Putman in an industry circular.

One industry source said the move showed how desperate the DETR was for the scheme to succeed.

He said: "If I was in their position I'd probably do the same thing. But it's worrying that they have to offer these kind of incentives. It's a short-term fix for the pilot schemes. What happens then? It's getting into the desperation stakes."

Only two firms have signed up to the Birmingham pilot and none in Somerset. Terry Blight, managing director of Somerset firm Terry Blight Building Services, said: "The good firms have enough work and the cowboys still carry on. A discount won't persuade people to join."

A DETR spokesman said: "This is one of a package of investments to build a better scheme. The letter has gone to 900 companies so you'd have to do a decent ring around to get a decent sample."

What the DETR letter says …
I am writing to let you know about two important developments that will be of particular interest to you … to qualify for your £350 discount you must register to join the quality mark no later than Friday 16 February
Letter from Nick Raynsford, construction minister

The aim is to tackle the perception that entry costs to the pilots remain a barrier by establishing a critical mass to create sufficient momentum to get the scheme moving … With luck, we shall be able to announce in early February that we are going to launch the scheme to the public later in the year
Letter from Stephen Putman, DETR quality mark scheme manager

And what the builders think …
Contractors are waiting on the sidelines for the pilot scheme to die out
Edward Harris, Young & Harris, Birmingham

Joining this scheme makes you a more expensive firm. It's human nature for customers to go for a cheaper deal. A quality mark won't stop that
Terry Blight, Terry Blight Building Services, somerset

The cost of all the add-ons has put people off from the start. That's been our position ever since the pilot was launched
Fred Shorters, Metrogold, Birmingham

This is the first letter that I've seen from a minister that makes it sound like he works for B&Q. They're trying to soften us all up
Industry source