Construction minister tells conference fringe meeting that firms with quality mark may be able to self-certify.
The government is considering changes to the Building Regulations to give reputable builders the edge over cowboys, construction minister Nick Raynsford disclosed last week.

Raynsford told a fringe meeting at the Labour conference that he is examining proposals to relax the regulations to allow registered contractors to self-certify when they carry out home improvements. Those without a quality mark will need local authority approval.

The proposal was first raised by the Construction Industry Council and is being promoted in the House of Commons by former Tory construction minister Tony Baldry. He is introducing a 10-minute rule bill on the subject later this month.

Raynsford said: "We are looking at real incentives for businesses who receive the quality mark. Self-certification … seems a good proposal and we are looking at it sympathetically."

The fringe meeting, entitled Combating Cowboy Builders, was co-sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Building, Building and Bournemouth-based contractor George & Harding.

Raynsford also used his 20-minute speech to confirm that the government will reconsider an anti-cowboy law if its voluntary quality mark scheme fails.

Self-certification … seems a good proposal and we are looking at it sympathetically

Nick Raynsford

The newly declared candidate for the mayor of London told the 65-strong audience that "Building magazine has argued very cogently for a statutory scheme". He stressed that if two pilots for the quality mark do not work, "the government will look at it again and consider a statutory scheme. We have not ruled it [legislation] out". However, Raynsford reiterated his view that a compulsory scheme would be too bureaucratic, particularly as many builders are sole traders who drift in and out of the business.

The minister also hinted that the DETR has lobbied the Treasury to cut VAT on home improvements. He said: "Our department has made representations to the Treasury. But ultimately, the decision rests with the Treasury."

Chaired by CIOB president Paul Shepherd, the fringe meeting also heard anti-cowboy speeches by Colin Harding, chairman of George & Harding and a Building columnist, and Hazel Jones of First Check Point, a Worthing-based organisation that puts vulnerable people such as pensioners in touch with reputable local builders.