Confederation of Construction Specialists warns that subcontractors will be hit by anti-cowboy measures.
Government proposals to combat cowboy builders by allowing main contractors to certify the work of their subcontractors have been slammed by the specialists.

John Huxtable, director of the Confederation of Construction Specialists, said that the new rules could exacerbate the power difference between the two sectors of the industry.

Under the DETR’s proposals, main contractors who have been adjudged to have reached a certain standard of competence would be allowed to certify that both their own work and the work of the specialist contractors they employ had reached Building Regulation standards. Huxtable is concerned that contractors are not sufficiently independent assessors.

He is said that if contractors were in dispute with subcontractors on a project, they could apply pressure by threatening to withhold certification irrespective of the actual quality of the work done.

“This is an area of potential conflict and we will be seeking clarification on it from the DETR,” said Huxtable.

These concerns were seconded by Neil White, head of construction and engineering at law firm Taylor Joynson Garrett.

“Most subcontractors will be pretty cross. It is just another way in which contractors can have a go,” he said. “It doesn’t help to give all that power to one party. Most subcontractors have some kind of certification. Perhaps those that don’t could be signed up to an independent registration board.”

Peter Chilvers, secretary of the District Surveyors Association, was even more scathing about the government’s proposals.

“Giving contractors this empowerment is a recipe for disaster,” he said. “The DETR’s proposals are too open-ended and, at the worst extreme, would put people’s lives at risk.”

Huxtable is also concerned that trade associations will be asked to assess whether some subcontractors are competent to certify their own work. “Trade associations are not suitable. There is a lot of self-interest in trade associations and they have a reputation for waffle and inefficiency,” he said.

A DETR source said only a small number of firms would be certifying work, adding that there would be an accreditor to ensure that the system was not abused.

The proposals were made in a DETR consultation paper published in October aimed at introducing self-certification to the Building Regulations, The deadline for responses to the consultation is in the new year.