For a more professional industry

In the UK, any person or company is legally allowed to undertake construction work without having to demonstrate a minimum level of competence. This means our construction industry is not as safe, professional or productive as it might otherwise be. The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has been campaigning for the past five years for a licencing scheme to professionalise our sector, improve its image for the current and new generations, and increase the quality of the built environment. 

“As a society, we shouldn’t settle for poor quality in workmanship. For many folks, a construction project at their home is the biggest expense they will have other than buying a house,” Gavin McGuire, NI Director of the FMB, commented. “You basically hand your savings to someone to say you trust them to do the work. Most companies will honour that, but there is a considerable portion of the industry that operates in a way which doesn’t respect quality and business, and that doesn’t seem fair.” 

In this interview to NI Builder Magazine, Gavin explains why companies and sole traders may still be resistant to the scheme, and how the benefits of a regulated profession would outgain the paperwork.  

NIB: Why is there still resistance to licensing the building industry while electricians and gas installers, for example, must be licensed to take on a job?

GM: I presume that there probably were times when gas and electric weren’t necessarily given the same scrutiny they have received in the later years but, in the construction industry, maybe people feel that measures like building control or standards are sufficient. We would always encourage clients to have a written quote and a contract in place. Some professionals do like that kind of more formal approach and itemised written quotes, while others prefer not to operate like that. 

The licence would offer a level of credibility that can be proved to consumers and shows companies are safe, insured properly, and make use of a more professional approach.

NIB: Is there more resistance in NI compared to other parts of the UK?

GM: In NI, people like to deal with people here. It is a little bit away from that corporate, clinical administration model. The construction sector is much more people and relationship-based, so there is a certain resistance to paperwork. 

On the other hand, FMB membership here is very strong proportionally in terms of the numbers of the working population in the sector. Hopefully, that means that there are lots of organisations that feel licensing is a benefit.

NIB: How would the licence help improve the industry’s image?

GM: Individuals who operate in the ‘grey area’ of the industry would either have to improve their standards or leave construction. Removing these ‘rogue’ traders is the best way to deliver a high level of customer protection. It is useful from both the clients’ and the industry’s point of view to have a company that is following the law and regulations, that is properly insured and that pays their VAT and subcontractors on time.

NIB: Considering the shortage of apprentices in the sector, would improving the construction industry’s image make it more appealing to young people as a career path? 

GM: In NI there are more apprenticeship vacancies than people to fill them. The industry is evolving, becoming greener, construction methods will change, and we need new people coming through with enthusiasm to drive that change. This is a subject for a wider discussion, but a licence could make the construction industry more appealing to younger people by improving the image and reputation of the industry.

NIB: The benefits of licensing are obvious to large companies which have a serious commitment to their image and reputation, but is it worth it for small businesses and sole traders?

GM: It would be important to set costs of any licensing scheme so they aren’t prohibitive, of course, especially for sole traders. So, a sliding scale might operate. Membership of the FMB, for example, costs about 50 pounds a month for companies. Membership provides accreditation and business support but, most importantly, the credibility that comes with the badge. I don’t see it as being widely restrictive. There is a lot more to be gained than it would cost to do.

NIB: Five years after its launch, how has the campaign progressed?

GM: We have worked with different government agencies and organisations to push it forward, but we need a devolved government or Westminster to say “Yes, this is something that we should take beyond theory.” We are pragmatic regarding short-term answers, but we do believe firmly in the principles of what licensing can do. We will keep trying to show that what we want is consumer support and a better, more professional industry that delivers projects people could invest in. 

To learn more about the campaign, visit