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Licensing for all contractors?

Binyamin Ali

The FMB’s new initiative, entitled ‘Raising the bar: A post-Grenfell agenda for quality and professionalism in construction’, received a curious launch at the Commons last week.

Following a short introduction from FMB chief executive Brian Berry to guests including SMEs, policy-makers and MPs from across the political divide, Mr Berry handed over to Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter.

“This is an important agenda… something does need to be done [to] instil more confidence,” Lord Porter started.

“The bit I disagree with, totally, is launching it now on the back of Grenfell. I spent the best part of a year trying to move the attention away from the quality of the builder in Grenfell, to the quality of the regime.”

No doubt this unexpected pronouncement caused some consternation among the FMB leaders in the room.

Nevertheless, Lord Porter is correct that the difference between poor workmanship and poor regulation and guidance is an important one.

But by his own observation, “Grenfell was a systemic failure” and as stakeholders in that system, builders and the industry that employs them must bear some responsibility too.

The FMB’s agenda makes three proposals: a government-led licensing system for all construction firms; mandatory 24-month warranties for work approved by Building Control; and a voluntary ‘general builder’ qualification.

The SME trade body is trying to secure cross-party backing for the proposals, the first two of which will need government support to get off the ground.

Meanwhile, the organisation is working with its members and other industry bodies on the implementation and delivery of the general builder qualification.

Dame Hackitt’s interim report on Building Regulations highlighted a need to “raise levels of competence and establish formal accreditation”.

However, this was aimed solely at those engaged with the fire safety elements of a building; the FMB’s proposals are industry-wide and would go a lot further than this.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey was also invited to speak at the launch and, to the relief of the FMB, he was more receptive of the industry body’s efforts.

He said the true test of the recommendations that emerge from Dame Hackitt’s final report will be whether they make a repeat of Grenfell impossible. This, crucially, will require a combined effort from government, industry bodies and private companies.

To this end, he commended the FMB for being proactive towards to the task ahead.

Mr Healey added that he expects Dame Hackitt’s full report to be published before the month is out. 

We will soon find out whether licensing for all is among the recommendations.

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