Veteran BBC reporter David Dimbleby had barely finished announcing that the UK had voted to leave the European Union as the chatter ratcheted up to fever pitch among those in the commercial chimney and flue sector.
The only topic of conversation revolved around how quickly the UK could ditch the EU standards on manufacturing.
Our business went public as ‘Out’ ahead of the referendum, and central to our position was our belief that A1 manufactures to higher standards than those set by the CE Mark – which came into force in 2013. Leaving the EU gives reputable British manufacturers the opportunity to push for the re-establishment of standards such as the Kitemark that truly reflect the UK’s world-class standing.
In short, the UK has an opportunity to set the bar higher for manufacturing standards, and it’s something we can capitalise on – particularly as the fledging export side of our business is opening up new markets outside the EU.
On the other side of the argument, Brexit has come as a huge relief because there are swathes of manufacturers that still haven’t got to grips with the rigorous, onerous and ubiquitous complexities of the CE Mark.
For them, the logic is simple: being out of Europe means they don’t have to comply with the CE Mark anymore and, more importantly, it gets them off the hook for not achieving total compliance in the first place.
This is especially prevalent because a lot of British SMEs manufacture for UK-only contracts, and this effectively gives them the green light to shortcut the EU rules and revert back to British Standards, which we have worked to for years anyway.
“It’s now open season on the CE Mark, and there is an orderly queue forming to expose its shortcomings as a standard”
Take free-standing chimneys as an example. BS:4076 is a very good standard and everyone in our industry knows where they are with it. However, as part of the umbrella of the CE Mark, we currently have to work to a Eurocode, as BS4076 is now superseded by BSEN 1993-3-2 (this being the Eurocode for the design of chimneys).
But the problem is that it is not a standard because it remains incomplete (mainly due to the fact that one of the world’s foremost experts on steel chimneys was at the forefront of developing the unified Eurocode but sadly passed away before his work was finished).
So, if our industry is in a state of flux, then I’m sure the same can be said for other sectors that are part of the manufacturing supply chain for the UK construction industry.
They’ll all be asking the same question: what happens next?
Whether we like it or not, EU standards won’t be disappearing any time soon and compliance is still obligatory.
But it’s now open season on the CE Mark, and there is an orderly queue forming to expose its shortcomings as a standard that was only ever about traceability and accountability, rather than being a genuine attempt to drive up manufacturing quality.
John Hamnett is a director of A1 Flue Systems