The Tory shadow business minister has responded to criticism of his plans to privatise health and safety inspections.

In October, John Penrose outlined plans to allow firms to run their own health and safety, with a professional body, akin to auditors, being paid by contractors to inspect sites. However, some firms have balked at the potential cost while unions have raised safety concerns.

In the week that all three main political parties launched their manifestos, Penrose said: “It won’t necessarily be more expensive. Any contractor who wants to stay with the status quo will be able to do so. The important thing is, some may think they can cope with this and do it better, cheaper, quicker and with higher standards.”

Penrose also dismissed the claim by construction union Ucatt that because firms could bar Health and Safety Executive inspectors from site in favour of their own safety staff, injuries could rise. He said: “What we’re talking about is not a change to the standard people will be held to. For it to work, what we’re going to have to have is a strong profession that is not willing to compromise on the standards.”