The Institute of the Motor Industry has galvanised trade bodies, carmakers, including BMW and Toyota, and some service companies, like Kwik-Fit into piloting a its voluntary technician accreditation scheme (see panel). That process is complete and the programme will be launched next month, primarily focused on service and repair staff, but the bodyshop industry is no nearer a mandatory scheme.
A legal requirement
Most bodyshops favour a Government backed compulsory scheme which will required them to have a license in order to trade. The lack of progress seems down to the fact that no-one is willing to take responsibility for implementing, and policing, a licensing system.
“In my book licensing can only ever be a legal requirement and would therefore it would need government sponsorship to take it forward,” says Robert Hadfield of the Auto Body Professionals Club (ABP).
“However, it is likely that there would need to be something approaching catastrophic proportions to occur before government would take licensing further and would then probably result in the licensing of the entire automotive aftermarket.”
In February the ABP formed a working party to look at body repair standards and invited all the trade bodies (the VBRA declined to attend) to meet at Thatcham in March, together with a number of insurers and repairers.
“It was gratifying to see a unanimous requirement among ABP Club members and supporter members for a single set of standards for our industry,” says ABP Club chairman, David Cresswell.
From this a focus group of insurers and repairers was set up which earlier this month met the British Standards Institute (BSI) to explain the market requirement for a uniform technical standard for body repair and to discuss the options for achieving that standard.
Consequently the BSI has agreed to work some outline plans and costs and the group will meet again with the BSI in early June. “I am delighted that such a positive from all sides of the industry is prevailing in a timely fashion on tackling the subject,” says Hadfield.
An industry standard
“The ABP Club has played its part in getting things moving, but I must emphasise that this is not an ABP standard, it is an industry standard. If the different sectors of the bodyshop industry stop paying attention to safety critical issues required to repair modern cars and stop being concerned with their legal and moral obligations, licensing will the natural bi-product,” Hadfield adds.
One of the other issues to dog the topic of licensing is what, or who, is actually licensed, whether it be technicians, premises, equipment or owners/managers. Many industry experts believe that it needs to be the people repairing cars themselves that are regulated.
“I’m a believer in licensing individuals and not businesses,” says industry analyst Chris Oakham.
Licensed to trade
“I haven’t looked at the licensing of electricians in detail, but this looks like a good system. From what I can see, electricians have to be licensed to work on our houses, but they don’t need a stack of examinations to do it – just fill out a form.”
If an electrician is reported for transgressions, an investigation is carried out and they can lose their licence and not be able to practise. So it’s by exception rather than a costly upfront system of exams and qualifications. “The construction of cars is getting more and more complex – driven by regulations. One day a badly repaired car will have another accident and cause a death,” adds Oakham.
“The trade associations are all apparently against licensing. They will probably say self-regulation is better and cheaper. Rubbish! I suggest their insistence on self-regulation is simply another way of securing members, whereas government licensing will mean no compulsory reason exists for joining a trade association.”
The Body Repair Industry Campaign (BRIC) is pushing the OFT’s Markets and Policies Initiatives Division to conduct a study into the industry.
“We have a crazy situation where wheel clampers have to be licensed, while any garage with untrained staff is permitted to put an accident damaged car back on the road. It is alarming that the Government is prepared to allow this to continue,” says Shaun O’Reilly, BRIC research director.
“The body repair sector has had some 13 different voluntary schemes over the past 30 years. These have all failed. Quite simply the cowboys just don’t join in. BRIC feels that licensing, sponsored by the Government, is the only way forward now.”
His view is backed by a majority of bodyshops who believe that licensing not only protects the consumer, it protects their investment in premises, equipment and people from ‘under the arches’ operators.