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A welcome path to drive out cowboys

HOW TO drive the cowboy builder out of business is one of the biggest issues facing the construction industry.

Professional firms don't need television programmes to remind them of the dire effect the cowboys have on construction's reputation. Cowboys cut corners on safety, ignore employment laws and use poorly-trained, ill-equipped workers. The initial price quoted for a job might be low. The real long-term cost, after all the mistakes have been corrected, is almost always many times higher.

Within this context, the news that the fledgling Construction Skills Certification Scheme looks to be taking root is welcome indeed.

The scheme was set up in the spring of 1995 as part of an attempt by the industry to raise skill levels and wipe out the use of cowboy operatives. It is run by a company, Construction Skills Certification Scheme Ltd, which was created with the backing of all the main construction employer organisations and the trade unions.

The idea is that workers with the necessary qualifications - or who qualify through limited 'grandfather rights' - are issued with a credit card-style document containing their photograph, national insurance number and trade details. Employers can them discriminate in favour of qualified workers.

Almost 50,000 have signed so far and, if this week's figures are to be believed, the total is rising rapidly.

Of course, the CSCS still has a long way to go. If the scheme is to have credibility among those who matter, the operatives, they need to feel their chances of getting a good job will be increased if they hold a CSCS card.

So, although the scheme is making progress, it still needs the support of more big and medium-sized contractors and, crucially, it needs more clients to say they will not allow unregistered operatives to work on their projects.

In addition, why should registartion stop with site workers? At present, anyone can set themselves up as a construction company and bid for work. The impact is to drive down margins and quality.

So, if we have registration of bona-fide operatives, why not proper registration of quality contractors - firms that know the difference between value and price?

Entry costs would rise. Then we would really be making progress.