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Give our profession the recognition we deserve

Farriers are regulated so only properly qualified people can carry out work

As SELECT steps up its high-profile campaign for regulation of the electrical industry, our guest columnist issues a timely reminder of why protection of title is so important – and why the arguments for doing nothing simply don’t stand up

When I was a boy (a while ago now) I sometimes accompanied my grandmother when she went for “messages”. She occasionally parked the car on the roof of a row of shops in Clarkston, East Renfrewshire. In October 1971, those shops were demolished in a gas explosion that tragically killed 22 people. 

Three years earlier, in May 1968, Ronan Point, a tower block in Canning Town, East London, partly collapsed just after it had opened. A gas explosion blew out some load-bearing walls, destroying an entire corner of the building. Four people died and 17 were injured.

These events and others led to statutory Gas Safety Regulations and to the regulation of gas engineers via the Confederation of Registered Gas Installers (CORGI), its successor and now Gas Safe.

People must be licensed before they can work as bouncers in night clubs

I cannot think of anyone who would argue that this should not have been the case. 

Rightly, other professions are also regulated. Hands up anyone who would accept treatment from an unqualified dentist? Farriers, night club bouncers and street sweepers are regulated or enjoy protection of title. If you ask the public whether electricians are similarly regulated, most say yes. 

SELECT has, of course, tried hard to educate the public over many years that this is simply not the case. Indeed, SELECT’s vigorous campaigning has helped a lot of consumers to ask the key questions before employing an electrician in the home or business. However that will never be the full answer to the question as to how to remove rogue traders and the incompetent from the market place.

Former MSP Neil Findlay put it vividly in a debate in the last session of the Scottish Parliament. As a trained brickie, which he said, tongue in cheek, everyone knows is the most important job on a building site, he still had to say that as far as he knew no brickie had ever killed anyone.

The title of electrician is still not protected which means anyone can use it

No excuse for doing nothing

SELECT has spent time, effort and resources to call government attention to the problem, yet neither the present UK Government or Scottish Government seem prepared to take the time to protect the title of electrician and require individuals to be properly trained and qualified. 

It’s baffling to be frank. Safer buildings and better protected consumers should surely be on the official agenda. So what’s their problem? 

SELECT has in fact disposed of all the arguments for doing nothing: 

“There’s no evidence to back safety concerns” – of course there is. Accident figures may not be as spectacularly bad as after the two gas explosions all those years ago but they are there in the death and injury statistics. Defect reports compiled by SELECT Members also show there’s lots of poor work uncovered every year. Dangerous faults can of course be latent, lying dormant for years before causing injury or worse. 

“It would be costly for businesses and consumers” – again, not so because the regulatory infrastructure could build upon the present Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB) and would be designed to be light touch in any event. In fact an analysis done by consultants showed conclusively that regulation would actually have overall economic benefits.

“There’s no competence for the Scottish Parliament to pass the necessary law” –  senior counsel’s opinion has said this is clearly not the case.

“There’s no time to draw up a suitable Bill for Parliament to consider” – SELECT has a draft Bill to kick start the Parliamentary process.   

And so it goes on… and on… and on. So where are we right now?

The Scottish Government has allowed the Electricians’ Working Group, which it set up to study the issues, to peter out. Despite fears that the establishment of the group was a delaying tactic, SELECT took part to show good faith and goodwill. 

The Scottish Government Minister responsible – whose father ironically was an electrician – has now admitted that there are no plans to introduce regulation.

The campaign goes on. The Member’s Bill is drafted and is available upon request for Members’ comments. Unfortunately, there is a queue of such Bills in the Scottish Parliament which makes it unlikely that the Bill will get into the Parliamentary process before the session ends in the spring of 2026. 

Street sweepers are regulated

However, SELECT is organising a meeting for MSPs who are signed up to the Wall of Support to take their advice on whether there may be any last-minute opportunities. One or more may try to get a change of heart from the Scottish Government.  Even if that doesn’t happen, the Bill can be re-presented after May 2026 and perhaps one of those present if re-elected will take it forward.

Prior to election, the parties issue their manifestos and work is under way already to try to ensure a commitment to introduce a Regulation Bill after the elections. I say elections because one way forward would be for the next UK Government to legislate.

Expect to hear more on these activities and others to promote the case in 2024. In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, sign up to SELECT’s Wall of Support and show your backing for a safer – and regulated – electrical industry. 

Euan Robson worked for the former statutory body, the Gas Consumers’ Council, for 12 years in the 1980s and 1990s before serving two terms in the Scottish Parliament. Now a consultant with Edinburgh-based Caledonia Public Affairs, he assists SELECT in promoting the case for regulation in the electrotechnical industry.


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