The alternative "most wanted" list
Hardly a week goes by without a request on the London SE1 forum for a reccommended plumber/builder/decorator or other local trader. A new scheme backed by Southwark Council may have the answer.
Cllr Richard Thomas
It's what we all dream of – a list of personally recommended and professionally vetted traders that won't botch the job, charge a fortune or even con them out of cash.
Southwark's Most Wanted is the country's first list of builders, electricians, plumbers, roofers and decorators that have gone through rigorous customer testing.
Richard Thomas, councillor for SE1's Chaucer ward and executive member for environment and transport, said: "Everyone wants to get their hands on this list – including me! Not only can people be confident that the traders they are hiring meet high professional standards, but they have the added reassurance of a personal recommendation."
Southwark Council started to develop its Good Practice Award for the Building Trade last year when it asked residents to nominate businesses that had provided them with an exceptional service.
Trading Standards Officers made sure the nominees met professional criteria and then invited them to join the scheme. The result is a register of 19 of Southwark's Most Wanted businesses which can now be accessed online, by telephone or by post.
Tellingly, none of the traders are based in SE1, and many are from outside Greater London.
Cllr Thomas added: "This scheme is fantastic. Customers can find builders they can trust and we can demonstrate our support of good practice in the industry. The added benefit is that we can start to squeeze out the rogue traders and cowboy builders that have blighted the industry's reputation."
Traders who are accepted on to the register agree to comply with a number of rules and principles including working within the spirit and the letter of the law, ensuring staff are competent and sticking to the scheme's customer complaints procedure and its Code of Practice. Traders also undergo a vetting procedure for things like criminal and county court judgements.
Trading Standards constantly monitors registered traders' performance. Customers fill in feedback forms and workmen are given a rating for punctuality, courtesy, workmanship, helpfulness, value for money and quality.
Lyn Skelton, programme manager for the Consumer Support Network (an initiative funded by the DTI), which funded the scheme, said: "Nationally, the building trade sector generates the second highest number of consumer complaints.
"Trading Standards officers aren't able to recommend individual companies but this scheme allows them to help consumers and decent traders find each other more easily.
"We want the list to grow, so we're still encouraging people to make their nominations by telephone, email or letter. We need everyone's help to drive the cowboys out of Southwark."
Residents can access the register online or request it by email (email@example.com) telephone (020 7525 2955) or by post (Southwark Trading Standards Service, The Chaplin Centre, Thurlow Street, London SE17 2DG)