COWBOY BUILDERS TO BE RIDDEN OUT OF TOWN; Prescott cracks down on conmen and bunglers.
COWBOY builders face a Government crackdown to protect householders from shoddy work and conmen.
Under a new scheme, properly- trained and qualified traders will carry an official Government-approved identity badge.
The move follows thousands of complaints to ministers and consumer groups about builders, plumbers and other craftsmen who botch jobs or charge too much.
The aim is to squeeze out of the market the sort of cowboy operators exposed in the television series House Of Horrors.
Two pilot schemes are to be run by John Prescott's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in Birmingham and Somerset before the plan is put on to a national footing next year.
All builders and traders will be able to apply for the Quality Mark badge and undergo rigorous checks on their proficiency and qualifications by town hall trading standards officers.
Local Government Minister Beverley Hughes said: "It is important that home-owners, especially the elderly who are the most vulnerable to cowboy builders, have some protection against being conned. This scheme is designed to give people some reassurance that when they see the officially-approved badge they can expect competent, reliable service at a fair price."
Independent bodies will inspect firms' insurance guarantee certificates and book-keeping, as well as health and safety policies.
One of the key independent bodies to be involved will be the Building Research Institute.
More than 870 building firms have already asked for information about the scheme, which will be supervised by newly-created watchdog committees with a powerful role for consumers.
A recent survey found that 80 per cent of households would choose an officially-approved trader if they could be sure that the tests were rigorous enough.
A spokesman for Mr Prescott's department said: "It is time that the industry attempted to help itself by fully participating in this scheme.
"The image of the cowboy builder has now overtaken the second-hand car dealer in terms of public hostility."
JOB WELL DONE: Contractors will carry a Quality Mark