When the world went mad one Wednesday afternoon

On Wednesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak promised to put £3000 000 000 into the hands of homeowners landlords and local authorities in the next twelve months, so 650000 of us can all make our homes more energy efficient. When you factor in the cash contribution for applicants the total uplift in spending on retrofit and energy saving measures might be in excess of £4 billion, and he wants to have all of it spent and gone fast!

It might be great news for the economy, but…

If this is not a charter for rushed, poorly considered, ill designed retrofit, installed by inexperienced firms and redeployed fitters who do not understand the implications of their actions, I don’t know what is.

The announcement is great news for the economy, product manufacturers and those that are sharp enough to take advantage of the forthcoming cash bonanza. On the face of it, it is a political winner too. Warmer homes, carbon savings, jobs, and a real injection of cash into the heart of the domestic RMI market.

But who is going to do this highly skilled and damp critical work and who is going to assure it and insure it? This is not an announcement that makes me think of for quality, and risk-free insulation works that ensures the homeowner is left with a defect free job that will stand the test of time. Or work that will be engineered in a way that considers the occupant, ventilation, the building fabric and the suitability of measures.

The sector cannot upskill fast enough

As the detail of the scheme rolls out, I am sure assurances will be made regarding quality control, but anyone who knows the retrofit landscape, will recognise this as a well intentioned but an utterly undeliverable project. And though a few have already announced their excitement at the thought of lots of work, it remains my assertion that the sector cannot upskill fast enough. An industry like this just can-not explode in size in a few weeks, without disasters to follow – it just can’t!

Forget the idea that we have a year to get up and running – applications for grants will open in September if all goes to plan. So, firms have until October to get ready for a possible tsunami of orders.

Without an assurance that this grant scheme will continue at the same rate for a number of years, where is the incentive to do things right and establish systems, train technicians that deliver quality for the long term? What legitimate insurance company would ever want to underwrite jobs done under this scheme, if it knows that 80% of the contractors that jump on this bandwagon now will be bust again within three years if the funding stream stops?

A scheme which no one is ready for

I know the detail on the roll out of the scheme will come, but the fact that the £4 Billon has to be spent very quickly just makes me shudder. PAS 2035 isn’t even legally enforceable yet and the NVQ for fitters hasn’t finished its review. TrustMark are not ready for this and the skills needed to do the work properly just isn’t there. Add to that the fact that there are only 500 retrofit coordinators in training (not qualified) across the UK, I just can’t see where the quality, accountability and customer care will come from after the experienced experts have been swamped by orders, and demand has outstripped the ability to supply good product.

I challenge anyone to look me in the eye and tell me that no one will see a chance to take advantage of those people who will be given £10K to spend, but have no clue what they are being asked to buy. If this scheme, taken on face value is not an example of how to engineer a situation that will promote corruption and rubbish work, I don’t know what is. Have they learned nothing from the f*@* up that was Eco?

Standards and best practice are critical

This announcement might not deliver many millions of pounds of new orders to PCA members now, but, give it three years and the damp problems created by the madness will assure lots of new jobs in remediation that won’t be government funded.

That said the documents that guide best practice in retrofit PAS 2030 and 2035 recognise the need to ensure the building fabric is damp free before retrofit insulation is delivered. The same standards also require the evaluation and improvement of ventilation. I can only hope these critical considerations are taken seriously as the madness begins.

Another legacy of problems for homeowners

A campaign of public awareness should be part of the plan as these vouchers roll out. We must ensure that the recipients of these vouchers are given the opportunity to be discerning, understand what they are commissioning and understand when they are at risk of being ripped off.

It depresses me that my tax money (and yes we are paying for this) is going to be spent on badly delivered, ill-conceived crap that won’t save the planet but will almost certainly make a few people very rich, very quickly while leaving another legacy of problems for homeowners that don’t have a clue what they are buying.

More on this subject in the coming weeks I’m sure, as we try and promote good moisture diagnostics and ventilation checks as part of the procurement process but first I need to book table at my favourite restaurant for every Monday and Wednesday in August, look to hire some young people and see if I can get the VAT back on my summer staycation.

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