Installer and energy efficiency campaigner Peter Thom has written to the Prime Minister to express his serious concerns over the recommendations made in the recently published 'Each Home Counts' Bonfield Review.
In an open letter to Theresa May, the founder and managing director of Green Heat expresses his frustration that the recommendations made in the Review put yet more barriers in the way of progress in enabling more people to live in energy efficient homes.
"Peter Bonfield's Review shows that little has been learnt from the failure of previous initiatives," said Mr Thom. "The valuable experience, advice and knowledge from those who have tried to make these schemes work and who are on the 'front line' with consumers, ie heating engineers, has not been considered.
"Following the disastrous failure of the Green Deal, which I highlighted in an open letter to David Cameron two years ago, explaining in detail why heating installers did not engage with this government scheme, I was somewhat surprised that following 200 meetings with 170 stakeholders and a further 410 organisations, the Bonfield Review is suggesting more of the same by retaining all these barriers. Clearly, the installers' view is not being listened to and they were probably not well represented at these meetings."
Mr Thom pointed out that the Green Deal scheme was originally going to be open to all Gas-Safe registered installers, without the need for the added costs of PAS2030 for management systems, additional accreditation, inspections and surveillance. This was in recognition of the fact that the industry is already highly regulated. Despite this, the Bonfield Review proposes the setting up of a Strategic Governance Board to oversee and monitor energy efficiency installations and decide on the levels of auditing required.
"There is also a suggestion that all installers will have to pay to join the government's Trustmark scheme," said Mr Thom. "This could well distort the market for other better known and trusted quality mark schemes, such as Which? and local Trading Standards' 'Buy with Confidence' accreditations."
Noting that UK homes are still among the least energy efficient in Europe, Mr Thom said was was "saddened" that these barriers were still being put in the way of progress.
"Operating best practice, with each customer's individual needs carefully considered in every job, is the absolute priority in our business. Yes, it is essential that the customer is protected to ensure they receive a professional service from an accredited engineer and provided with the correct information and advice, but there is robust legislation and regulation in place that already protects the consumer," he said. "I am not aware of any evidence that the perceived problems outlined in the review exist in the heating industry.
"In a review of the Green Deal, the National Audit Office concluded that the design of the Green Deal not only failed to deliver any meaningful benefit, it increased suppliers' costs – which were then passed onto the consumer in higher energy bills – in meeting their obligations through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme.
"These schemes have been very complicated and restrictive to a very low number of installers, so are not that accessible. Perhaps all schemes need to be evaluated on sound principals and a value for money basis, with all the red tape and extra layers of accreditation such as MCS and PAS 2030, cut away?
"I am concerned that there seems to be a 'syndicate' of organisations who are not part of the supply chain, who are feeding on our industry; providing costly and time-consuming training, accreditation and systems that offer no extra benefit to the tried and tested standards that are already in place. Which leads me to question if the driver behind this review is to protect these syndicate organisations?
"There are important lessons to be learned from the failure of previous initiatives. Heating installers are in the best position to know what is needed and workable to protect, engage and educate homeowners on all home heating and energy efficiency measures. Indeed, in a OnePoll survey conducted by HomeServe during last year's Gas Safety week, gas and heating engineers were shown to be the country's most trusted traders.
"Surely then, engaging with them in a thorough consultation process must be an absolute priority when considering the implementation of any further changes and new initiatives?
"I have worked in the industry for over 50 years and have seen numerous schemes come and go, with increasing red tape and bureaucracy frustrating their progress and complicated, changing qualification criteria leaving consumers confused and reluctant to engage.
"I and my colleagues in the industry totally support the government's commitment to improving household energy efficiency to provide affordable and sustainable energy, but any policies and schemes proposed to do this must not be at a cost for the consumer – or supplier. Any change of course must take into consideration the particular needs of smaller installer businesses.
The costs of the Green Deal were more than financial and many smaller companies were forced out of business as a result of its failure.
"The heating industry really does not need any more regulation. We are a good and well-trusted group of professionals, delivering best practice and doing a great job of improving the energy efficiency and comfort in people's homes; and not a ragtag of rogue traders, as seems to be the perception in the Bonfield Review.
"Removing the red tape and added costs of regularly changing policies are key to making these schemes work - for everyone."
Mr Thom is now urging the Prime Minister to recommend a working party of professional heating engineers and installers to work with policy-makers to look at ways in which industry and government can collaborate to improve the efficiency of UK housing stock. This has worked well in the past, resulting in the introduction of successful energy efficiency measures.
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