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‘Make us official’ is the bodyshop call

Hairdressers, nightclub bouncers, gas-fitters and bodyshops: which is the odd one out? The answer – bodyshops. The rest have to be licensed to conduct business.

Licensing is a hot topic at the moment across the motor industry. Spurred on by negative publicity in the national media, fuelled by damning Office of Fair Trading reports about car sales and the aftermarket – no matter that it rarely mentions bodyshops, much of the industry gets tarred with the same brush – there are rising calls for some form of official accreditation scheme.

For body repairers, however, licensing is a more complicated issue than that affecting hairdressers or bouncers. David Cresswell, joint founder of the new ABP Club of bodyshop professionals – supported by AM – says there are lots of questions to answer.

“What gets licensed? Is it the business, the process, equipment, parts or the individuals? Should the licensing be graded according to the type of repairs carried out?” Cresswell asked a recent Bodyshop magazine conference. “There are lots of industry standards – trade associations, insurers, manufacturers, accident management companies – so who would police a licensing scheme; who would pay for it; and who really benefits?”

The subject has taken on a more pressing edge since the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF) announced the scrapping of its much-mooted CarWise scheme.

Matthew Carrington, RMIF chief executive, puts the blames squarely on the Office of Fair Trading, responsible for granting the scheme code of practice status, for “constantly moving the goalposts – they weren’t prepared to take on the Consumers’ Association and they simply weren’t ready to approve CarWise”.

And while Carrington does favour “benign” regulation, he is opposed to a licensing scheme operated by a statutory body. “It would be bureaucratic and costly. We reckon it will cost between £3,000 and £4,000 a year to be regulated, although this could be as high as £8,000. Self-regulation is the way forward because it’s a lower cost,” he says.

“But I think there is a danger that we will end up with licensing now that the CarWise scheme has collapsed.”

While cost is certainly the big issue for a Government-legislated licensing scheme, bodyshops themselves appear to be in favour.

Shaun O’Reilly, frontman for the Body Repair Industry Campaign (BRIC), believes cost is a “red herring” because it would cheaper for many businesses to join a licensing scheme than pay out membership fees to all the trade bodies.

“It would also cut out the cost to insurers of regulating and auditing bodyshops – so there won’t be any additional costs passed on to the customer,” he says. “Licensing would provide a level playing field which benefits the industry as a whole. And it will prevent bodyshops from taking short-cuts to get a competitive advantage.”

Thatcham has been identified as the ideal organisation to police a licensing scheme, although chief executive Peter Roberts, while lending his support to such a scheme, believes overall control should not be its responsibility. “ Our role is in setting the standards and repair process methodology, not monitoring licensing,” he says.

The last word goes to Shaun O’Reilly: “We want licensing that is Government-backed. It’s the only way forward.”

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