Brett Amphlett and David Purdy.

Hard choices and trade-offs explored at BMF Members' Day

Published:  22 September, 2011

WARWICK: The Government knows what it must do: cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. It plans to achieve this through a raft of measures to engage UK householders and landlords to comply with this task. At present, however, its Green Deal scheme is too sketchy and, at its Members' Day earlier this week, the Builders Merchants' Federation quizzed a top civil servant and sought merchants' opinions about what they wanted government to do to help create a level playing field for this scheme and their supply chain.

As Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne once said: "The project is all about getting to grips with the hard choices and trade-offs which need to be made, choices which will affect our homes, communities and the way we travel. We can't afford to leave it till tomorrow – so get involved today."

The BMF, as the fulcrum for the merchant industry, was seeking grassroots opinions and comments from members to enable it to take their message straight to the heart of government.

BMF policy manager Brett Amphlett, who will be "doing some vigorous lobbying" with MPs, has his work cut out in making the case for merchants at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on 25-29 September next week – and then at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on 2-5 October. But, he cannot act in isolation.

"The Government's Green Deal plan is hugely ambitious is a market-based scheme, so BMF members need to pull together an industry alternative to the threat posed by non-merchants," Mr Amphlett told Builders' Merchants News.

By introducing the Green Deal, the Government has painted a big project on a broad canvas. Now, it appears, it is up to those who wish to take part in it to help government fill in the picture by expressing their pros and cons for this scheme.

"Embryonic" was how one merchant described the scheme. "There is a lack of detail and the Government seems to be fishing around for feedback," said another. "Looks like a ministerial career will come to an end when the voters fail to take up the Green Deal in any significant number" said a third voice.

At both of the very well-attended Green Deal workshops chaired by Mr Amphlett and attended by David Purdy, head of insulation and delivery in the Energy Efficiency and Consumers' Directorate of DECC, merchants expressed both concern and dismay that there was not enough information being provided to enable them to take steps to get to grips with the scheme.

Mr Purdy explained the current thinking in Whitehall as the Energy Bill enters its final stages before becoming law. After outlining the latest position on both the Green Deal and the new Energy Obligation in the main auditorium, Mr Purdy stayed to take questions and slay a few myths surrounding the policies.

Later on, in the two very well-attended roundtables, Mr Purdy worked through some of the details on sources of finance, the importance of the initial property assessment and providers trying to seamlessly join up both policies into one customer offer.

Several merchants said the impression was "the big boys have got the market already sewn up" and that DECC favoured B&Q by frequently using its branches to stage announcements and launches by ministers. Mr Purdy, however, offered assurance that "the smaller players will be vital in getting the scheme going".

Chris Hayward, managing director of NMBS, grew impatient with some of the dialogue at this workshop. He stated that when his company surveyed its members most had said they wanted the Green Deal to proceed. "The energy assessors required to expedite the scheme are in place, training is available and finance will be fixed through the Green Investment Bank." He hinted that NMBS would soon be in a position to offer a service to help independents co-ordinate these measures.

Mr Amphlett meanwhile continued lobbing his probing questions at Mr Purdy throughout the sessions.

The issues left open for further discussion and input between members and the BMF about Green Deal among BMF members were how to develop a merchant-led response as the antidote to vertically-integrated corporates moving in on merchants' routes to market – and whether renewables should be a part of the finance streams in or out of the Green Deal, how to get away from energy companies financing the Deal. Mr Purdy re-iterated that DECC advocated as wide a variety of offers as possible throughout the marketplace.

Mr Amphlett also wanted to know how many merchants' finance directors would be interested in joining a BMF delegation with Federation staff who have started to talk to the banks about finance models for the Deal. Merchants were invited to devote senior management time to test out the City of London's appetite to invest in asset-backed green improvements through merchants. Mr Amphlett urged merchants to contact him as soon as possible about this project.

Mr Purdy explained that a number of players were currently spending a great deal of time looking at different business models. In three months' time, he said, his department would have a better idea and a greater level of confidence about the interest in the scheme.

BMF's Members' Day also held workshops on employment issues and the uses of social networking.

The event, held at the Marriott Hotel in Meriden, Warwickshire, had an impressive turnout of over 200 delegates.

A full report of Members' Day will appear in the October edition of Builders' Merchants News, out on the 21st of the month.

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