Greg Barker: safety is paramount.

Green Deal will put safety and skills first

Published:  06 July, 2012

LONDON: In anticipation of the domestic Green Deal's launch in October 2012, Builders' Merchants News joined 120 key industry suppliers, policy-makers, representatives from the gas and electricity sectors and builders' merchants Ridgeons, Wolseley and Wickes to hear the Government's latest views about how the Green Deal model will encompass the very best safety and training standards. Lisa Arcangeli reports.

The joint conference by the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum and the All Party Parliamentary Gas Safety Group at Portcullis House yesterday, was also a prime opportunity for the preferred Green Deal Oversight Body to be introduced to parliamentarians and industry representatives.

The familiar message – that the Green Deal is about transparency and engagement with 'stakeholders' was trotted out once again. 

Chairman of the meeting, Barry Sheerman MP, who also co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Gas Safety Group (APPGSG), said: "Green Deal has fantastic potential to increase the energy-efficiency of housing stock but needs co-operation and constructive dialogue for it to work. We want to know what needs to be changed." 

David Thorne, chief executive of Gemserve, the Green Deal Oversight Body, said that the five key tasks for which his organisation is responsible are: certification; setting standards for installers and assessors; a code of practice; authorisation of the providers and the development of a Green Deal marque.

While waiting for Greg Barker, Minister for Energy and Climate Change, an impromptu Q&A took place. How will people be able to trust this marque, Mr Sheerman asked David Thorne.

"We have to get the standards right," he replied. "They must be set high enough to protect customers but not too high to close down entry level into the marketplace. Our role at Gemserve is to have a vehicle in place to allow customers to take on the Green Deal."

So, in theory, an individual could be a taxi driver one day and an installer the next? "Yes," said Mr Thorne. "Provided that they meet the standards."

There are already 22 certification bodies. How will the scheme be supervised? "UKAS will be accredited as the certification body," said Mr Thorne. "And, we will provide feedback to the certification bodies about the areas which need to be addressed."

Forty minutes late, Greg Barker arrived to address the gathering with a message that focused single-mindedly on safety.

The Green Deal, Mr Barker stated, should ensure safety is not compromised by its actions. APPGSG would like to see a Green Deal that ensured all heating appliances are fitted by a qualified engineer and that a carbon monoxide alarm is fitted if the air-tightness of a home is changed because air-tightness might augment the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, due to reduced ventilation, Mr Barker pointed out.

"Safety in the home is a concern. The recent tragedy in Oldham is a reminder of the human cost lurking behind failures to adequately fit and inspect." He went on to say that "we must educate the wider consumer about these dangers. The Government must ensure that safety is built into the framework and that the industry has the adequate skills to deliver it".

Mr Barker said the Government believes the Deal will thrive in the green refurbishment market, where millions of old gas boilers will be replaced with new models. Enshrined in a code of practice, Green Deal Assessors will identify CO risks and installers will fit new devices as specified – and –"only those products which meet the criteria".

Green Deal Providers will be liable for all the Deal's plans. Providers will be required to offer a five-year warrantee and ensure customers are aware of all installed measures, including the need for adequate ventilation.

He pointed out that only a few manufacturers offered gas condensing boilers with a five-year warranty. "That's why we want to see manufacturers and the industry go a step further," said Mr Barker. The Government wants to create "an open, more vibrant market with greater choice for the consumer – but not at the cost of safety." 

"Innovation and competition is what is needed – particularly in the products themselves. But safety must always come first."

Luciana Berger: Green Deal must be a 'good deal', too.

Green Deal, he continued, was meant to be as permissive as possible and will include heating controls, lighting, double glazing and solid wall insulation. To encourage more "out-of-the-box thinking", more products would be included as the Deal rolled out.

Mr Barker made his excuses and had to dash off to attend a meeting on assisted suicide. "Hopefully, the two topics aren't linked," he quipped. Mutterings from some delegates suggested otherwise.

Then it was the turn of Luciana Berger MP, Shadow Minister for Climate Change. "The Green Deal must ensure that a properly skilled workforce is available to carry out improvements – provided there will be sufficient demand," she said, explaining that energy giant E.ON had announced a £100 000 package to start the recruitment of 100 young jobseekers into energy-efficient apprenticeships.

She warned that it was unrealistic to expect companies and industry to invest in a market if there was no work for them, as she reeled off the following figures:

Fourten million homes need to be insulated by 2020, but DECC's own research showed that the 900 000 installations of 2012 will drop by 83% to 150 000 in 2013.

Cavity wall insulation looks like following this downward path, from 700 000 installations this year, to 400 000 in 2013 – a drop of 43%.

DECC has made £200m available for the Green Deal's 'early adopters', and yet we still wait to hear how this will be distributed, Ms Berger said.

She warned that asking the consumer to invest £10 000 in a package that would be paid back over 25 years at an estimated interest rate of 7% would not be viable. The Government's own assessments show that the general public would not even be interested if the interest rate was 6%. "We need to incentivise the take-up of the Green Deal so that it is a good deal for consumers and for our industry," said Ms Berger.

Tim Pollard, Wolseley's head of sustainability had this to say about the meeting: "This was a really well organised and attended event with a full house of delegates covering a wide range of interests. There was also the added frisson of a phalanx of photographers outside Portcullis House which sadly turned out to be there not for me, but for a Mr Diamond who appeared before the Treasury Sub Committee on the same day.

"The day may have been founded around the safety agenda but the presentations and comments were wide-reaching around the Green Deal and any event which attracts both the Minister and Shadow Minister has to be worth attending. Barry Sheerman's opening address reminded us all of the importance of safety, particularly regarding the potential for CO issues from both gas and solid fuel appliances.

"David Thorne was first to present around Gemserv and its role as the Green Deal Oversight Body with particular reference to accreditation and registration. Greg Barker gave a polished performance delivering a speech re-affirming government's commitment to Green Deal and included an implicit supporting element around the safety theme of the day. Luciana Berger gave a lively response (highlighting three key areas for attention on Green Deal, but repeatedly stressing that the Labour Party was fully supportive of the Green Deal and the PAYS concept.

"The three areas for attention were safety and consumer protection, the cost of finance and the need for the promotion of the scheme.

"Ann Robinson of the event's sponsor, Ascertiva, summed up proceedings and repeated the need for consumer protection and simplicity in accessing the scheme.

"During a Q&;A session I managed to raise the issue of the potential length of the process and its effect on people making distress purchases. This received widespread support from both the audience and the panel eliciting comment from Luciana Berger, David Thorne and Ann Robinson. In inviting me to put my question, Barry Sheerman also referred to my 'stylish bow tie'!"

Tim Pollard: government's commitment to Green Deal included supporting safety.

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