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Do we invest in regulation or people?

Posted: Monday, February 13th, 2023

Nobody likes shoddy work or the people that do it. Not the customers, trade bodies or other tradespeople.

But that appears to be just about the only thing that anybody can agree on.

The idea of regulation is often floated as the best way to stamp out cowboy builders and rough tradies that do substandard work, leave angry customers in their wake, and cause headlines in the tabloids. But there isn’t any consensus of what form that would take. 

Should it be self-regulating, likely a voluntary scheme managed by a trade body or something bigger, backed by the government and encompassing multiple aspects of the trade?

Or should the whole issue be left to the open market, where Google, social media platforms and directory websites give customers the opportunity to ‘feedback’ about a tradesperson’s work.

Last week’s British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom Installation (BIKBBI) annual conference highlighted the issue of ‘rough installers’, and the reputational damage they cause.

The trade body's CEO, Damian Walters argued for some form of regulation complaining that “there are no barriers to entry”, so literally anybody can start work in the industry.

Highlighting the size of the problem, a retail brand also at the event said they had stopped using 450 installers in the last year due to concerns about the quality of their work.

According to Walters, many of those same installers will move on to another retailer where similar problems will happen again.

Whether industry regulation for kitchen, bedroom or bathroom installers ever gets off the ground will probably boil down to who is going to pay.

The current government has shown little appetite to tackle cowboy builders with additional laws. For now it appears happy to let Trading Standards take the lead, rather than invest in an expensive regulation scheme.

How big an appetite retailers and builders merchants have to invest in an independent regulator for the installer community is unknown. It would in theory provide them with a way to measure the quality of subcontractors that they use.

However, so would shifting away from using subcontractors entirely, and taking the installation process in-house. 

But again, it’s a cost issue. Having an in-house army of installers might ensure quality, but’s a hell of a lot more expensive than using subbies.

Speaking to an experienced carpenter a few days later, and he was quite clear where he saw the problem. Most of the subcontracting work doesn't pay well enough to attract quality tradespeople. 

So does the industry need to invest in skilled tradespeople (or developing skilled tradespeople) or in regulation? I love to think it would do both, but evidence would suggest that is unlikely.

I suspect most tradespeople would say people.

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