Government gives members of 11 trade bodies chance to register free of charge as firms snub discount.
THE government is offering to pay the registration fees of up to 220 firms to encourage them to join the ailing quality mark scheme.

The offer was first made in October – four months before construction minister Nick Raynsford announced a £350 discount. No firms have accepted the free offer, and as Building goes to press, only two have taken the discount.

Under the offer, the DETR contacted 11 trade bodies and asked them to recruit between five and 10 members in the pilot areas of Birmingham and Somerset.

The Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association said it was enrolling 10 member firms in Somerset and 15 in Birmingham. It is about to review its own membership accreditation process to bring it into line with the quality mark scheme.

Asked why the DETR had failed to publicised this initiative, a spokesman said: "It is a work in progress. It is a case of what is achievable. It is not something we have deliberately avoided publicising. We need to get people on board, it is a domino situation. People want to see it work before they join." He said that one reason why there was little publicity about the initiative was that it could lead to some firms complaining that they had paid when other firms had been registered free.

He added: "These firms won't be paying a fee. The DETR is covering fees and application costs. There is no formal target. If the associations can get five or 10 each then that's good. It is something to work on." It is understood that the DETR has a strategy in place to sell the scheme to the public. It is expected that this will be done in the pilot areas within the next two months, once enough firms have been signed up.

The DETR spokesman would not confirm details of the launch.

If the associations get five or 10 each, that’s good. It is something to work on

DETR spokesman

Members of the public applying to Birmingham and Somerset local authorities for home improvement grants will be encouraged to use quality mark-accredited firms.

Firms registered with the HVCA under the revised criteria, set to be introduced by the end of next year, will automatically qualify for the quality mark scheme.

The DETR has also enlisted the Construction Industry Training Board to drum up interest in Birmingham and Somerset. Firms that had expressed interest in the scheme have received leaflets, phone calls and visits from CITB officials.

A CITB spokesperson confirmed that six staff in its Exeter and Loughborough offices are working with local firms.

The Somerset pilot acquired its first two accredited firms, Smith & Co of Highbridge and Henry W Pollard and Sons of Bridgwater, this month.

How the DETR has tried to boost the mark

June 2000 The government is forced to pour more money into the quality mark scheme to cover the cost of assessing applications. Nick Raynsford hires top advertising agency BDHTBWA to spearhead the campaign
July DETR simplifies application form
November Working party set up to boost take-up
December Industry sources report that the launch may be put on hold until after the general election
January 2001 DETR offers firms £350 discount on £500 cost of application