Regulation for the nation

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Right now, almost anyone can claim to be an electrician and carry out electrical work. The absence of the necessary qualifications and experience required to do so of course make this practice incredibly dangerous for both the ‘electrician’ in question and unwitting consumer. Here, SELECT discusses the importance of protecting the title for the profession of electrician.

Partially or unqualified ‘electricians’ put us all at potential risk and undermine legitimate electricians, who undertake a proper apprenticeship and maintain their skills by taking part in regular update training. 

This is why SELECT, the trade association for the electrical contracting industry in Scotland, has spent the last few years pressing the Scottish Government to introduce protection of title for the profession of electrician. It has been joined in this campaign by a number of other bodies, including Unite the Union.

Such regulation would mean that only those who hold industry-recognised qualifications would be able to call themselves an electrician – and help reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by fires and electric shocks every year.

Research carried out on behalf of SELECT in 2018 showed that faulty electrical installations account for 7.1% of all fires in Scotland, with damage caused to property by such fires costing around £9.6million. 

SELECT managing director Alan Wilson comments, “Much of the cost of faulty electrical installation lies in malfunctioning or poorly-finished work that needs to be replaced, with a number of surveys pointing to the proportion of domestic work that is substandard.

“Based on these and the data on underqualified electricians, we cautiously estimate £104 million of cost to the consumer from faulty electrics installed by unqualified tradesmen – about 5% of work in all.

“Not including the occasional major cost of catastrophic incidents, we think that the overall cost of faulty electrical work in Scotland is approximately £120 million every year.”

SELECT’s own research suggests that there could be as many as 4,000 unqualified or part qualified electricians working in Scotland.

Unqualified electricians don’t improve their own skills or contribute significantly to the economy, mostly operating in the black or grey economy.

SELECT also points to the notable contrast between regulation in the gas industry and its absence in the electrotechnical industry.

Across the UK, there are 102 regulated professions including some of a surprising nature, namely door supervisors (AKA bouncers), road and street works operatives, arts therapists and public space surveillance operatives – yet no such regulation applies to electricians.

Alan speculates, “It’s amazing that an industry that’s so safety-conscious and potentially dangerous if not done correctly is still unregulated. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals out there carrying out electrical work who have no qualifications or experience, putting people at harm.

“Regulation is the only solution. Whenever we speak to politicians and the public, no one has said yet that it’s not the right thing to do. The Scottish Government has to have the courage of its convictions and introduce regulation as quickly as possible.”

To highlight this peril, SELECT has embarked on a round of national press and radio interviews, and raised the profile of its campaign further by visiting Holyrood itself, hosting exhibitions and meeting politicians face-to-face to get its message across.

Some 32 new politicians joined the swell of cross-party support after the association spent three days lobbying in late 2019 – meaning that 41 of the Scottish Parliament’s 129 MSPs now back the campaign. 

Among the new supporters was Michelle Ballantyne, Conservative MSP for South Scotland, who said, “I am delighted to support this campaign because protecting title not only ensures standards and recognition in a profession, it provides reassurance and safety for the consumer.”

Ms Ballantyne, who is also Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Social Security, added, “In an age where we are increasingly reliant on electricity, we need to know that someone who calls themselves an electrician is indeed suitably qualified and is not going to put our life, or the lives of those we are responsible for, at risk through lack of training.”

SELECT specifier and client relations manager Yvonne Wilson, who organised the three-day exhibition in November, said she was delighted with the response.

She said, “The event was a huge success and it was great to deliver our message in person and engage with MSPs from all parties. 

“The response from every party was extremely encouraging and it was heartening to see that improving safety for consumers across Scotland is a priority for our politicians, no matter their party allegiances.

“We will now continue to raise awareness of this issue and work towards our ultimate goal – making it an offence for someone to call themselves an electrician when they have no, or inadequate, qualifications.”

The results of SELECT’s campaign can now be seen on its Wall of Support, an animated online graphic that hosts testimonials from MSPs, MPs and other important industry groups keen to show their backing.

Bodies that have contributed a ‘brick’ to the wall include the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB), Unite the Union, Electrical Safety First, the Scottish Association of Landlords, the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group and the Energy Saving Trust.

This swell of support has also been reflected across social media, with SELECT enjoying an upturn in web traffic as people like and share posts under the hashtag #BackTheBrick.

To keep this momentum going, SELECT is now planning to lobby local authorities across Scotland to stress the importance of regulation.

The Scottish Government has pledged to publish a consultation on the regulation of electricians as part of its 2019-20 Programme for Government and a Members Bill is also under discussion.

Alan continues, “Working with the full support of the SJIB, Unite the Union, the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) and others, SELECT is determined to continue to work hard for regulation of electricians.

“Larger political circumstances such as Brexit have unfortunately overtaken most immediate domestic concerns. However, these wider, unprecedented issues can’t be allowed to detract from the governing requirements to ensure the day-to-day safety of our citizens, as well as the security of our business environment.

“It’s vital that the issue of regulation isn’t kicked into the long grass and that it continues to be a prominent issue at Holyrood and beyond. By applying continued pressure, we are confident of a positive outcome for our members, the industry and the wider Scottish public.”