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Political parties respond to IMI letter on automotive technician licence to practice

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has asked the political parties to put their cards on the table on the issue of a licence to practise for automotive technicians.

The IMI predicted that the views of 500,000 people working in the retail motor industry would be worthy of consideration for any of the candidates.  

IMI chief executive Steve Nash wrote to each of the party leaders laying out its case for a licence to practise. Nash told the politicians that 70% of voters believed a licence to practise already existed, and that they were justifiably disturbed to find their safety was not protected by Parliament.

Nash also stressed that 90% of business owners in the retail motor industry were in favour of a licence, to help them protect their reputations.

Here are the responses:

Labour:

MP Ed Miliband said: “We will give the industry the tools you say you need to tackle free riding employers who do not train, such the powers to set levies and licences to practise – enabling employers to drive up standards and build stronger training routes within the sector. We hope to work with the IMI on this agenda in Government”

UKIP:

MEP Nigel Farage said: “Will regulation help women and elderly people in particular from having work carried out on their vehicles which is unnecessary (if indeed it is carried out at all) because these two particular sets of people are unable to check and the garages know this, and even regulated garages can be unscrupulous in carrying out work and diagnosing faults that are not there.”

“Nowadays it is becoming mandatory for cars to go to main dealers for servicing at far greater cost than the local garages used to charge, which is another cause for concern, forcing smaller reputable business to close.”

Conservatives

Nash and head of sector skills James Stockdale met with Lincolnshire MP and transport select committee member Karl McCartney. He promised to take the matter of licensing to David Cameron, stating:

"The truth is that in the UK anyone can work on a car commercially; they don't need qualifications or any training. Just as worrying, those that have relevant qualifications are under no obligation to maintain their skill levels to keep up with technological developments. The public have no way of knowing if the work carried out on their car at a garage has been done safely by a competent professional or not.

"Both the IMI and I believe that this matter needs addressing and I have now also written to the Prime Minister so that he is aware of my and the IMI's views."

Nash proposed the IMI’s own government funded Professional Register and IMI Accreditation as a basis for a licence, adding that the IMI would be well equipped to administer the process if needs be. 

Nash's letter:

According to the road safety charity Brake, poor vehicle maintenance is at the root of around 2,000 road accidents every year causing hundreds of serious injuries and fifty fatalities. Half of UK motorists also admitted to Brake they had driven with at least one risky problem or defect on their cars for long periods.

In IMI research a third of drivers said they never have their car serviced by a professional. They put this dangerous neglect down to a lack of trust in the motor trade. It all adds up to a dangerous situation, one that Government action could easily change.

Consumers tell the IMI that they can’t confidently choose a garage or mechanic because there is insufficient information available for them to verify the competence of service providers. They say they have to rely on the protection they believe is provided by government in the form of a licence to practise. They assume it must be similar to the Gas Safe register. They’re horrified when they discover no such protection exists. 

The truth is that in our country anyone can work on a car commercially; they don’t need qualifications or any training. Just as worryingly those that have relevant qualifications are under no obligation to maintain their skill levels to keep up with technological developments. The public have no way of knowing if the work they’re paying for is carried out by a competent professional or if it is potentially lethal for them and other road users.

The proliferation of hybrid vehicles and complex driver assist systems has already increased the skills requirements for safe working on modern vehicles. Driverless cars will arrive sooner than you think and then the skills gap between the competent professional and the “back street blagger” will be ten times greater. Government action to help consumers make safe choices is now vital to avoid future disasters.

IMI is not asking Government to start from scratch on a licensing scheme; the template for licensing already exists through IMI Accreditation and our Professional Register. These were established in response to a Government request for industry action back in 2007. We did our best with both schemes with limited resources, but they lack the element of compulsion required to protect all consumers and to defend the best in the business from rogue traders.

A massive majority of businesses in the sector are in favour of some form of mandatory licensing, but there are still 148,000 mechanics in the UK whose skills and current competence IMI cannot verify. It is vital that this issue is addressed as quickly as possible.

Through our accreditation schemes, qualifications, and membership, IMI represents the majority of the 500,000 people working in the retail motor industry. We know business leaders and employees in the sector are keen to know the views of each of the parties on the issue of licensing ahead of the General Election. I would be grateful if you could share with me your views on this issue and any plans your party has to address the concerns of the sector and those of the public on licensing for automotive technicians.

I have written to the leaders of each of the main parties asking for the same details. We will publish all the responses together in our magazine, newsletters and in the automotive trade press, which cover the entire sector.

I will of course be glad to discuss this matter with any member of your policy team should you require more information before responding.

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