How Scottish contractors can help push back against counterfeit products
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ALWAYS A WINNING HAND WITH OUR FULL RANGE OF CLICK WIRING ACCESSORIES
HELLO 4 NICEIC stands ready to support its registered electrical contractors in Scotland against rogue traders
INDUSTRY UPDATE 5 Scotland roadshows, Scottish Government launches awareness campaign for registered electricians, and new centres improve training access
COUNTERFEIT PRODUCTS 6 The electrical contracting
industry is working to tackle the epidemic of counterfeit goods â€“ but individual contractors still need to remain vigilant
CONTRACTOR PROFILE 8 Whether the contracting job is big or small, Glasgow family business A Alexander & Son can take it on
REGULATION 10 Should we regulate who can call themself an electrician? With the hope of protecting both consumers and the industry, the Scottish Government is consulting on that very question
CON TAC TS / CO N N E C T I O NS
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T E C HN CAL KEVA N I PA RKER
Reﬂecting your concerns Your feedback is vital in helping us identify the issues that matter to you and enabling us to act on them
elcome to the latest edition of our Connections magazine for contractors in Scotland. Thanks to all those who came along to our roadshows recently. All four events were well attended and it is great to see more and more of you at each show. The roadshows are a great way for us to speak to contractors directly – something I place a great emphasis on. Our aim is to provide you with the tools to do your job more eﬀectively. Your feedback is essential, and it is vital for us to listen and understand your concerns so we can take action. One topic many of you have voiced concern about is rogue electricians, and those who operate outside the parameters of registration and assessment. It’s
Kevan Parker is managing director of Certsure
an area we have been working with the Scottish Government closely on in recent years. The Scottish Government recently announced it would be holding a consultation on the regulation of electricians as part of its 2019/20 programme, and we have a great piece about this from the Scottish Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn, on page 10. The consultation will give interested parties an opportunity to discuss the best way forward and ensure that only those with the appropriate skills, competence and accreditations should be allowed to carry out electrical work. It shows a willingness from government to take the matter seriously; we look forward to working with it and presenting contractors’ views to take the sector forward.
‘One topic many of you have voiced concern about is rogue electricians’
N I C E I C I N S COT L AND / ME E T T H E T E AM STUART THOMPSON, SCOTTISH SALES MANAGER Stuart is an experienced commercial manager with experience of national account management, project management and marketing. Based in Scotland, he is responsible for NICEIC Scotland membership and works with a wide network of members, key customers, stakeholders, business partners and speciﬁers.
PHILIP MARTIN, AREA ENGINEER Philip is an electrical technician with more than 30 years’ experience in all areas of the electrical engineering and petrochemical industry. Previously a senior qualiﬁed supervisor with British Gas, he helped establish its current quality auditing regime, which identiﬁes training needs for all electrical operatives.
EDDIE THOMSON, AREA ENGINEER Eddie has been an area engineer with NICEIC since 2001. After serving an apprenticeship with British Rail, he worked with several companies, carrying out electrical, lighting design and project management. He also spent some time in charge of a large maintenance and works depot.
EDDIE ARROWSMITH, REGIONAL ENGINEERING MANAGER Eddie is NICEIC’s regional engineering manager, based in Aberdeen. He served his electrical apprenticeship with British Rail and specialised in DC systems, high-voltage AC systems and DC machines. He worked for consulting engineers’ practices for 18 years, and was senior electrical engineer with WS Atkins.
YVONNE WARNER, AREA ENGINEER Yvonne is an experienced electrician and has worked in all aspects of the electrical industry, from domestic to commercial and industrial. In addition to her role as an electrical inspector, she assesses hazardous areas, as well as MCS solar and wind.
LOUISE FRAME, AREA ENGINEER Louise covers the North Glasgow and Lanarkshire regions. She started her career with an electrical apprenticeship when she was 16. Since then, she has worked in homes, schools, oﬃces and factories, theatres, sports stadia and museums. She became a QS and was in an electrical management role before joining NICEIC.
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GOVERNMENT PLEDGE TO SUPPORT INDUSTRY
Contractors out in force at roadshows More than 400 electrical contractors attended our NICEIC roadshows in Scotland recently. The four events in Inverness, Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh proved popular with sparks, who quizzed NICEIC’s technical experts about some of the latest developments in the electrical industry. This year’s seminars covered topics such as BS 5389 (ﬁre detection and alarms), electric vehicle charging, surge protection devices (SPDs) and EICR coding. The events were also CPDaccredited for the ﬁrst time, meaning attendees could use their lessons from the day as part of their ongoing professional development. Stuart Thompson, NICEIC’s area manager for Scotland, said: “Our roadshows give us the
opportunity to speak to electricians directly about the latest happenings within the industry and allow us to ﬁnd out ﬁrst-hand the issues they want us to look at. “It was a great series and a good way for anyone working in the industry to get the opportunity to speak to leading names in the industry and to talk face to face with suppliers, manufacturers and other contractors in the area.” In addition to the seminars, attendees were also able to chat to representatives of the Electrical Industries Charity and discuss the practical support services and ﬁnancial relief on oﬀer for electrical contractors and their families who come into diﬃcult circumstances.
NICEIC has welcomed the Scottish Government’s pledge to launch an awareness campaign to make it easier for consumers to ﬁnd qualiﬁed electricians. The announcement also included a promise to publish a consultation on the debate regarding the regulation of electricians. NICEIC has been working with government and other industry parties to drive rogue electricians out of the sector. The campaign will highlight the need to use a registered electrician who is qualiﬁed to carry out the work. Kevan Parker, managing director of NICEIC, said: “This announcement adds further momentum to our commitment to improve consumer safety and protection.” The government’s programme for 2019/20 can be found at gov.scot For more information about the government’s intentions regarding regulation see page p10 inside
NICEIC updates training centres NICEIC has updated its network of approved training centres in Scotland.We now have a spread of centres across the region, improving access to a range of courses to build your skills. NICEIC Training can now be accessed at:
• Glasgow, City Building Glasgow • Aberdeen, Imorph Limited, Altec Centre • Kirkcaldy, Building Services Business Centre • Inverness, IVtwo, Kintail House • Edinburgh, Plumbing Pensions, Bellevue House.
The extended network means electricians in Scotland can now access more NICEIC courses in Scotland than ever before, including the 18th Edition. NICEIC oﬀers the full three-day 18th Edition training course or the one-day update course at the venues above. For more information about dates and times for the course please visit www.niceicscotland.com/training
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COUN T E R F E IT I T P RODUC R O DU C TS
The production and availability of counterfeit goods has been a longstanding issue in the electrical contracting sector. We examine the scale of the problem – and the dangers of being tempted by deals which seem to be too good to be true BY ROB SHEPHERD
roduct counterfeiting is a big business. A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development put the value of fake goods at more than £400 billion – a ﬁgure equivalent to 3.3 per cent of world trade. Lighting devices, cable, wiring accessories, circuit breakers and fuses are just some of the products in electrical contracting that are counterfeited and readily available for contractors to use, knowingly or otherwise. The word ‘counterfeit’ refers to a product that illegally uses a manufacturer’s branding and infringes intellectual property rights in order to dupe a potential purchaser. This is diﬀerent to a product that is simply substandard and doesn’t meet regulatory compliance. Nevertheless, there are always people willing to produce
goods that are designed to lull unsuspecting purchasers into a false sense of security. Jeremy Hodge, British Cables Association (BCA) secretary general and director of the Approved Cables Initiative (ACI), says the matter is particularly problematic in the electrical contracting sector. “The main issue is the risk of an installation that fails an inspection or a test and needs extensive rework,” he says. “For cable that has been permanently ﬁtted into a building, the cost of rework could be many multiples of the diﬀerence between the original cable cost and the counterfeit. With this then goes reputational damage, which can take a while to recover – if it does at all.” It is surprising that any reputable electrical contractor would risk purchasing such products, but
30%: THE PROPORTION OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE BOUGHT ELECTRICAL PRODUCTS ONLINE THAT TURNED OUT TO BE COUNTERFEIT
£400BN: THE GLOBAL VALUE OF FAKE GOODS
Mark Froggatt, technical director at the British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC), believes that the tendering process is a factor. “Every penny counts, and it is this ﬁnancial pressure which can create problems, leading to the use of counterfeit goods,” he warns. “However, opting for a low-cost product that does not hold any formal product approval will have a higher chance of causing issues further down the line.” WEB OF DECEIT Online trading has introduced additional opportunities for counterfeiters. The scale of this problem has been highlighted by Electrical Safety First, which found that some of the most popular e-commerce sites are being used to exploit online shoppers, exposing them to thousands of substandard, counterfeit and suspected recalled electrical goods. “We surveyed 2,000 people and found that 30 per cent have bought electrical products online that turned out to be counterfeit,” explains Martyn Allen, technical director at Electrical Safety First. “We also found that 92 per cent of people think online retailers have complete control over third-party sellers, regulating what goods they oﬀer. This isn’t the case.” Chris Stammers, compliance services manager at the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers’ Association (BEAMA), shares this concern. “With the exponential increase
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in the size of the global online marketplace, the risk of noncomplaint or counterfeit electrical products reaching the UK market is increasing,” he says. “Electrical contractors should be aware that if they purchase electrical equipment online from an overseas source, they will be legally classiﬁed as the equipment importer and have the added obligation of ensuring the equipment is designed, examined and tested to be electrically safe and compliant. Having the CE marking stamped on a product is not in itself proof of compliance.” Wiring accessories are some of the most counterfeited electrical products, and sophisticated production techniques mean it is often diﬃcult at ﬁrst sight to distinguish the fakes. Counterfeit plugs, socket outlets and plate switches are often superﬁcially good copies of the genuine article and carry what appear to be the correct trademarks and approvals. Some companies in this sector are ﬁghting back against the counterfeiters. Peter Bridgwater, Scolmore’s purchasing director, gives the example of CDS Superstores – trading as The Range – which had been selling domestic lamps with counterfeit plugs that were copies of Scolmore’s genuine products. “We secured an injunction against CDS Superstores preventing it from dealing with any counterfeit Scolmore products in future and we were paid a substantial sum in damages,” he says. “We will always pursue any infringer and are prepared to ﬁght our cases on multiple fronts in diﬀerent countries.” ON THE WIRE Due to the price of copper, electrical cable is often targeted by counterfeiters, too. Some have reduced the diameter of the copper wire, which has the eﬀect of reducing the current rating and increasing the resistivity of the cable. There have also been
instances where materials other than pure copper, such as steel wire and copper clad aluminium, have been used. “Unscrupulous manufacturers could be tempted to reduce the copper content in attempts to save costs,” points out Froggatt. “This can have very serious knock-on eﬀects, one of which is undersized conductors, which is a high-risk safety hazard. While in operation it can put additional stresses on the product, leading to overheating and increased risks of ﬁre.” For cable manufacturers such as Prysmian, counterfeiting is not the key issue – substandard and noncompliant cable is. “Insuﬃcient copper or non-electrical grade PVC cause real safety concerns,” says Simon Hopkins, marketing manager at Prysmian. “Cable that is substandard, or used in the wrong situation, is a life-threatening hazard, so particular attention must be paid to the Construction Products Regulation (CPR). Labelling in relation to CPR is a legal requirement and shows that a manufacturer has designed and tested cable for reaction to ﬁre.” TAKING THE INITIATIVE A great deal of work has been done to address the problem – often with collaboration from all sectors of the industry. For example, BEAMA’s Anti-Counterfeiting Working Group was formed in 2000 to take action against counterfeit products and the traders who distribute them. This was boosted in 2008 with the launch of The Electrical Installation Industry Charter, a pan-industry association operation that is backed by organisations including BASEC, BEAMA, BCA, the Electrical
Contractors’ Association and the Electrical Distributors’ Association. Similarly, the ACI investigates unsafe, non-approved and counterfeit cables and raises awareness of this issue. It also lobbies government to enforce and develop legislation, ensuring that only cables that fully comply with British, European or international standards and carry a third-party certiﬁcation can be manufactured for sale in the UK. If the ACI ﬁnds unsafe cables, details are passed to the police, Trading Standards and the Health & Safety Executive. Fighting the counterfeiters remains a tough challenge, though. “Unfortunately, enforcement in the form of the police service and border force has been severely aﬀected by government cutbacks – being reduced by 20 per cent in the last seven years,” says Stammers. “Furthermore, Trading Standards staﬀ numbers have suﬀered even more severely, so the risk of being apprehended has diminished as the scale of the problem has increased.” Everyone likes a bargain, but we all know that you usually get what you pay for. Electrical contractors need to remember that they are legally liable for the services provided under contract for six years from completion of the works. Furthermore, if someone becomes hurt, or worse, as a result of having had products supplied and installed that are counterfeit and/or do not meet the required standards, there will be serious repercussions.
Rob Shepherd is a freelance business journalist who specialises in the building services industry
‘Opting for a low-cost product that does not hold any formal product approval will have a higher chance of causing issues’ 7 SCOTLAND AUTUMN 2019
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A ALEXANDER & SON
Glasgow ﬁrm A Alexander & Son is now well into its third generation of family ownership. But while the business has grown beyond all recognition, the family feel remains BY NICK MARTINDALE
Test of time
A Alexander & Son managing director Stewart Alexander (left) with his father, company chairman James
Company A Alexander & Son Established 1962
IN AT THE DEEP END By the time Stewart, now 34, came into the oﬃce in 2007, the economy was starting to take a turn for the worse. “I learned the ropes in diﬃcult waters, which in retrospect was better than if I’d come in during the good times,” he says. A contract with Dobbies Garden Centres helped it weather the storm, and also introduced the business to Bernard Diamond, who was working with a Northern Irish contractor responsible for the mechanical element of the contract. “We ended up starting our own mechanical division – Bernard is now a director of the
IMAGES: ©PETER SANDGROUND / UNP
he name of Glasgow-based A Alexander & Son is something of an anachronism. The business was set up in 1962 by Andrew Alexander and William Tawse, initially trading as Alexander and Tawse Ltd. It was only when William retired in 1975 and Andrew’s son James, who had joined as an apprentice in 1964, took on a more managerial role that the current name was adopted. Now, the business is run by James’s son Stewart, who joined as an apprentice in 2001 and moved into management in 2007. Last year, James took on the role of chairman, with Stewart running the business as managing director. The early days were a case of slow and steady growth, recalls James. “When I started we didn’t even have a van, so we travelled in the tram carriage,” he says. “We did quite a bit of work for what was Yarrows Shipyard, and also did work for the Glasgow Eye Inﬁrmary, the British Shoe Corporation and Safeway.” Over the years the business has made a number of acquisitions – the last one in 2003, when it took over M&G (Glasgow) Ltd, adding signiﬁcantly to staﬀ numbers and customer base. “In 2003 we’d lost a key customer when Safeway was taken over by Morrisons. Taking over M&G brought us a new batch of customers, including care homes and housing associations, and we’re still working with them today,” says James.
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“We also have a contract with the Bield housing association to do PAT testing and emergency lighting testing. The small works side is predominantly reactive but we’ll maybe do 50 jobs a week, and we also can borrow guys oﬀ-site to go and do a small job as it comes in.” The company employs 55 people, and expects turnover to increase to around £6.5 million in the current ﬁnancial year – a signiﬁcant increase on the ﬁgure of around £4 million that it has hit in recent years. “Five or six years ago we were doing around £2.5 million a year, so our turnover and margin have increased quite a lot,” says Stewart. “The ambition for me, though, is not having a glossy turnover ﬁgure but having a sustainable business. One of the lessons during that 2008-9 period was how quickly the market can change, so we run it quite conservatively and keep money in the business, as we might need to weather any potential problems just around the corner.”
company – and that was a huge boost for our client base,” says Stewart. “Back in 2012 we were missing out on contracts because we couldn’t provide mechanical and electrical (M&E) services. The mechanical division has really boosted the electrical side; previously we might have had 20 jobs at £50,000 but we’ll now do two or three worth £1-2 million, along with a selection of smaller contracts. The mixture of contracts has made it much easier to manage our resources.” Today, the business covers everything from multi-million-pound M&E contracts to changing sockets in domestic properties. Care homes is an area of expertise; it’s currently undertaking contracts in Inverness, Musselburgh and Duns. “There’s obviously a big drive in the market for them but we seem to have that M&E formula right, and we’re getting quicker at doing them,” says James. “But we take on work across the whole spectrum, and we tend not to say no to anything.” Other notable projects from recent years include the Ofgem Commonwealth House in Glasgow, Clyde Gateway East and Bertie’s Restaurant in Edinburgh. A small works division keeps two electricians and two apprentices employed. “We do maybe 10 EICRs a week, which can be for homeowners, letting agents or private landlords,” says Stewart.
‘We take on work across the whole spectrum, and we tend not to say no to anything’
GROWTH FOCUS The business is targeting a number of new areas, too. Earlier this year Gavin Bell, previously of Bell Alarms, joined to start up a ﬁre and security division in response to demand from clients. “We’ve been on the NICEIC’s training course and we’re recruiting now for ﬁre and security engineers,” adds Stewart. “That will take us into housing associations, and open doors for the contracting side as well.” Building up the maintenance side is another priority. The company relies on apprentices as a source of labour, and takes on between two and four each year. “We have electricians who were thirdyear apprentices and trained me when I started who are now foremen,” he says. “Most of our electricians are homegrown; it’s hard to ﬁnd the right staﬀ, so we ﬁnd it easier to ‘grow our own’.” As the third generation at the helm of the business, Stewart is determined to make sure the ﬁrm continues to be run in a sustainable manner. “I want it to be here for another 50 years and beyond,” he says. “I’m the keeper of it just now and will look after it the best I can, and maybe pass it on to another generation in the future.” Having his father has been vital in helping him grow into his new role. “It’s testament to his ability to bite his lip and let me make a mistake,” he says. “That’s been invaluable. But it’s a family business and that shines through the whole company. A lot of people have been here since they were 16 or 17. Even though we’ve grown in recent years it’s still that kind of environment, and that’s the way we’d like to keep it.”
Nick Martindale is editor of Connections
The number of people the business currently employs
REG UL AT I O N
Safety ﬁrst The need to protect consumers is at the heart of the upcoming consultation into whether – and how – electricians in Scotland should be regulated
n the coming months, the Scottish Government will consult on whether electricians in Scotland should be regulated and how this should be achieved. In 2017, research commissioned by the Scottish Government found that 92 per cent of those polled believed that electricians should be independently assessed to determine their qualiﬁcations and/ or competence. Despite this, the UK government does not currently regulate who can call themselves an electrician, or require that only those with suitable qualiﬁcations or demonstrable competence can carry out certain kinds of electrical work. This puts the UK at odds with most of the rest of Europe. The consequences of substandard electrical work can be devastating, and it is often those who are most vulnerable who are most at risk. There is also the need to safeguard
the industry for the long term, so that it can continue to attract the skilled entrants needed to ensure good practice remains the norm. There is already a framework in place that supports the majority of reputable tradespeople to deliver professional standards of electrical work – including the scheme run by NICEIC. However, these schemes operate on a voluntary basis, and there have been calls from parts of the electrical industry to regulate electricians and recognise the high level of skill required to carry out their duties safely and competently. In 2017, the Scottish Government established an Electricians Working Group to explore the issue, inviting industry and consumer experts in Scotland to join – including NICEIC, SELECT, Electrical Safety First, Scottish Joint Industry Board and Citizens Advice Scotland. I have chaired the group since taking up
‘The vast majority of electricians take pride in both the quality of their work and the service they oﬀer’ the role of Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills in June 2018. The complexity of the issue, and the strong feelings it evokes, are clear. However, there are points on which we all agree and these have guided our discussions. They are that the industry and the Scottish Government must focus on: • Protecting consumers and ensuring the safety of electrical installations • Protecting scrupulous traders and creating an inhospitable environment for miscreants
IMAGES: ©2016 ANDREW COWAN/SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT / SHUTTERSTOCK
BY JAMIE HEPBURN MSP
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• Maintaining an environment that allows competition within electrical services provision to thrive. I recognise that the majority of electricians take pride in the quality of their work and the service they oﬀer. Our task is to tackle the small minority who damage trust. One of the challenges has been accurately assessing the scale of the problem. The Scottish Government does not shy away from regulation where it is required, but it should be proportionate, eﬀective and justiﬁable. This requires full understanding of an issue. It is on this basis that the Scottish Government commissioned a comprehensive study of issues around regulation of electricians. Despite its thorough exploration, reaching any conclusions on the scale of risk required signiﬁcant assumptions. This leads to two conclusions: that, while there is
some risk posed by unqualiﬁed and incompetent traders, there is also considerable challenge in assessing a suitable response. This challenge is increased by the split of powers between the UK and Scottish governments, which may constrain what’s possible. One proposal is to provide title protection for electricians – making it an oﬀence for someone to call themselves an electrician without proof of the necessary qualiﬁcations or competence. Other proposals include building on the current framework to create an expanded, Scottish Governmentbacked voluntary regulatory scheme, or a more comprehensive licensing system that would involve mandatory registration. I hope you will respond to our public consultation when we publish it. I must stress there is no predetermined outcome, but our
response may be curtailed by the limits on our devolved powers. However, to the extent that we can act, we are determined to do so. I also want to stress that, no matter how we take forward regulation, there is more work to be done to increase public awareness of the safeguards already in place, and to make it easier for them to identify qualiﬁed and/or competent professionals. Without this crucial step, regulatory measures alone will have little impact. I am conscious that much of this work must be led by industry itself. However, the Scottish Government is committed to using its inﬂuence to help. And while the complexity of this issue requires that we consult before committing to anything, I want to assure those of you who are hoping for change that progress is being made: • The Electrical Safety Working Group is building on the work of the recent white goods campaign to improve consumer awareness of the need to hire qualiﬁed, competent electricians and the current ways to do so • NICEIC and SELECT have agreed to work with Trading Standards and exchange information so as to improve the protection of consumers from substandard work and prevent it, where possible • Eﬀorts are being increased to identify the cause of electrical ﬁres so that harm caused by faulty installation work can be better tracked and tackled. These may seem like small steps, but they will help ensure that electricians and those who hire them are protected from harm. To access the Regulation of Electricians in Scotland research report, visit www.gov. scot/publications/regulationelectricians-scotland/ Jamie Hepburn MSP is Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills at the Scottish Government, which is currently working with the electricians group to ﬁnd a way forward.
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