- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Categories: Blog, Feature
Cowboys were on the agenda at the Assembly this week – of the tool belt not gun belt variety.
I chair the Assembly’s construction group, which is made up of AMs from all the political parties and industry experts. On Tuesday (18 June) we took evidence from Richard Jenkins, director of the Wales Federation of Master Builders, who said tighter building regulations in Wales could help drive out cowboy builders and even save lives.
Four years ago, three year old Meg Burgess was killed when a 23m wall collapsed on top of her as she walked with her parents on a public road. FMB Wales argue that tragedies like this will continue to happen as long as anyone calling themselves a ‘builder’ can make structural changes to domestic properties.
Getting the balance right between sensible regulation and burdensome red tape is not easy. Electricians and gas engineers are required by law to be registered as certified, whereas plumbers are not. That makes sense. What about builders? A dodgy load-bearing wall can be as dangerous as a faulty plug, after all.
What is more, cowboy builders give the industry a bad name – they undercut honest tradespeople and cause misery – so we should explore ways to make it harder for them to operate here in Wales. That is why the group agreed to ask the Welsh Government to consider the pros and cons of a Welsh builders’ license.
The construction sector has been badly affected by the economic downturn. Pushing out the cowboys would certainly help the vast majority of trustworthy traders. In the meantime, politicians in Wales and London can support the industry in other ways. The Welsh Government’s ambitious infrastructure investment programme, which includes building 7,500 new affordable homes and bringing a further 5,000 empty properties back into use by 2016, is a big boost. The coalition in Westminster should cut the rate of VAT on home improvements and repairs. That would help both builders and homeowners.