With less than 400 firms signed up to the quality mark will the new construction minister Nigel Griffiths be tempted to replace it with a compulsory scheme?

With Brian Wilson stepping down as the construction minister there is bound to be speculation over the future of the government's quality mark scheme. The new construction minister Nigel Griffiths will want to assess whether ploughing more resources into the anti-cowboy scheme is money well spent.

At the moment only 366 firms have signed up. To persuade consumers to seek contractors with the quality mark the government will have to undertake a massive advertising campaign, estimated at around £40m.

The government won't spend the money until there are enough firms around the country carrying the quality mark. The scheme's credibility will soon disappear if someone in Lincoln is told that the nearest accredited builder is in Sheffield.

While it ponders whether to commit funds to advertising, Griffiths will have a chance to consider the Chartered Institute of Building's call for a contractor registration scheme.

CIOB says that the registration scheme would require workers or contractors to obtain a license number. These would be displayed at every site and failure to acquire a license would be a criminal offence. In its report <I>Improving site Conditions</I>, the CIOB says the scheme could be enforced by bodies such as the Construction Industry Training Board or trading standard officers. The scheme would replace the quality mark scheme, and is similar to one proposed by <I>Building </I>magazine in 1999.

Less than a month ago the government was still promising to expand the scheme and called on local authorities to use only quality mark accredited contractors on their housing stock. It hopes that this will force more builders to seek quality mark status. The government also claims that even without marketing there had been massive interest in the quality mark from consumers, with over 50,000 consumers enquiries about the scheme.

Part of the government's problem is that trade bodies have been reluctant to align their own accredited schemes with the quality mark. For instance in April, the Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association launched a third party accreditation scheme, which does not automatically give members quality mark status. HVAC members rejected the quality mark's annual inspection and warranty scheme and instead kept its own three-year competency inspections and warranty procedure.

This was a blow to the government as it is hoping that by encouraging trade bodies to invest in matching their standards with the quality mark it won't have to fund expansion.