Floundering anti-cowboy registration scheme runs out of time as DETR runs out of ideas.
The anti-cowboy quality mark scheme is likely to be put on hold until the general election as officials admit that they have run out of ideas.

According to industry sources, DETR officials have said the lack of firms joining the scheme means that it cannot be offered to consumers before the spring.

However, one source said it was now feared that government preparations for the election, expected to be in early May, would mothball the scheme until the summer. There are currently only two firms signed up to the mark's Birmingham pilot and none on the Somerset pilot.

He said: "They are in a total dilemma. Nobody has any bright ideas left. Everyone expects Nick Raynsford to be promoted after the election and then there will be an opportunity for a new minister to rethink the whole issue."

The news led to calls for the government to ditch both the cowboy scheme and the Constructionline approved list and to use accredited industry schemes instead.

A DETR spokesperson admitted that the scheme had had problems with recruitment but insisted officials were still developing strategies to boost take-up.

They should throw the whole lot out. It’s a nonsense. All firms are getting are costs

Rudi Klein

He said: "Government remains completely committed to this scheme. It is currently considering a multitude of options in order to kick-start the recruitment process again. It is hoped these measures will break the stalemate. An announcement will be made shortly."

Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts said that although nobody wanted the scheme to fail, current strategies were not working: "They are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Good builders have enough work already and lowering standards to make it easier to join would defeat the object."

Meetings between individual trade associations and DETR officials are understood to be taking place regularly. But there has been no further meeting of the group of umbrella bodies and trade associations that is expected to act as a steering group for the scheme.

Rudi Klein, chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group, said it was time for the government to rethink its entire strategy.

He said: "They should throw the whole lot out. It's a nonsense – right now we are making no progress. With the quality mark scheme and Constructionline it seems that all people are getting are costs. It will make firms less competitive when competing against cowboys."