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Threat to industry from media

The motor repair industry should be fearful of media pressure for Government intervention on service standards, warns Mark Boleat of the National Consumer Council.

He believes that, unless manufacturers and trade bodies work together and produce a proper scheme of self-regulation soon, the resultant NCC “super-complaint” is likely to produce a flood of calls for mandatory licensing.

“That’s not to say the threat is from the Office of Fair Trading,” Boleat told delegates at this month’s Bodyshop conference. “It’s not very effective. No, I take that back, in fact it’s useless. But the aim will be to embarrass you all and cause a fuss.

“The consumer bodies are not going to let go of this issue. They are going to keep campaigning and pushing at this until they push the Government into some action,” he said.

Boleat is campaigning for the creation of a Consumer Protection Standards Agency. It would be empowered to levy industry to fund a network of enforcement bodies, which would mystery shop businesses and prosecute those unable to prevent theft or fraud.

He argues that the motor sector is unlikely to effectively self-regulate in its current form, as he sees its trade bodies as divisive and ineffective. Citing results of a recent industry survey, he adds: “I see that by far the most popular trade association is given as ‘none’.”

Boleat says the now-defunct CarWise garage code of practice was “ideal” but ultimately failed because there was “no enforcement, and more than 25% of the industry refused to sign agreement to it”. Like the Retail Motor Industry Federation, he accuses the OFT of “mishandling” the scheme, and says proper self-regulation needs carmaker support.

Bodyshops have raised concerns that consumer groups are making no distinction between the service and repair sector and the accident repair sector. Boleat concedes that if Government decides to intervene, it is likely to encompass the entire industry unless bodyshops make a stand.

He cites the legislation that followed the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers tragedy as an example. It was introduced to license gangmasters following the deaths in 2004. But the legislation also affects recruitment agencies such as Manpower.

“The vast majority of consumers cannot give a toss who the repairer is. They’re not bothered who to choose to repair their crashed car,” he says.

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