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CRACKDOWN ON COWBOY BUILDERS REVIVED

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Ministers will this week attempt to refloat the government's much-criticised campaign to drive cowboy builders out ...
Ministers will this week attempt to refloat the government's much-criticised campaign to drive cowboy builders out of business by instituting an industry kite-mark, reported Sunday Business (p10).
The DETR is to pump a substantial sum of money into the scheme and announce the backing of several industry trade bodies in an effort to revitalise a scheme that observers had believed was on its last legs. The DETR launched the scheme as a pilot in Birmingham and Somerset to tackle the problem of dodgy tradesman.
Complaints about shoddy workmanship and rip-off prices from builders make up the lion's share of householders' complaints to trading standards officers.
However, the scheme has failed to attract interest from building companies. By the beginning of January only two building firms had been awarded the mark. Critics accused the government of misunderstanding the scheme's target market by making the process of applying for the mark bureaucratic and expensive.
The scheme has echoes of a similar service launched by the department of trade and industry in the early 1990s with similar aims, but for a different sector. The DTI Consultancy Brokerage Service was intended to crack down on cowboy management consultants which were giving the profession a bad name. The nationwide
computerised register of consultants was broadly welcomed when it was unveiled in 1993, but became bogged down in bureaucracy and rows over its charging structure, which many consultancy firms saw as excessive. The scheme was dropped in 1995 at what then trade minister Richard Page admitted was a 'significant' loss to the
taxpayer. Most of the costs incurred went into buying computer kit to set up the consultancy database.
The DETR insisted this weekend that it intends to press ahead with the quality-mark scheme by allying itself with various building trade bodies which can block-register their members. This approach may bring in greater groups of tradesmen, but it is unlikely to recoup the costs of launching the sceme - estimated to run into millions
of pounds in marketing and promotional costs.
The government indicated that it will force through the scheme by requiring contractors which work for local or central government to be registered, but this may only bring in a maximum of 5% of the industry, say critics.
Housing minister Nick Raynsford last year backtracked on plans to charge builders up to£500 to register by announcing£350 discounts for firms which fast-tracked applications. A DETR spokeman admitted this concession had made little difference to the volume of registrations coming in from tradesmen.
While DETR struggles to attract more than a handful of builders to his quality-mark scheme, other internet-based operators are drawing in substantial numbers of tradesmen - mainly by promoting their services to customers who, in turn, are using the sites to find workmen for their properties. The DETR, however, described internet sites as 'less than ideal.' Its spokesman said: 'Their checks on the financial status of tradesmen are simply not as thorough as ours. We offer much greater protection and assurance than the e-business sites and frankly when we do launch with a major media, public information and publicity campaign we will pass all of them by.'
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