The newly formed Conservative government certainly has much on its plate from the economy and the future of the NHS to immigration, but one area which the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) hopes will gain traction is the licensing of mechanics.

The IMI had called for mandatory licensing to be an election issue and part of its campaign involved directly approaching all political parties asking them where they stood on the proposal in the run-up to the election.

Steve Nash, the IMI’s CEO and the organisation’s head of sector skills James Stockdale met with Lincoln MP and transport select committee member Karl McCartney, who has held the Conservative seat, prior to the election itself. When he met with the IMI, McCartney promised to take mechanic or technician licensing to Prime Minister David Cameron, who today starts his second term as he returns to number 10.

At the time, McCartney said: “”The truth is that in the UK anyone can work on a car commercially; they don’t need qualifications or any training. Just as worrying, those that have relevant qualifications are under no obligation to maintain their skill levels to keep up with technological developments. The public have no way of knowing if the work carried out on their car at a garage has been done safely by a competent professional or not.

“Both the IMI and I believe that this matter needs addressing and I have now also written to the Prime Minister so that he is aware of my and the IMI’s views.”

And David Cameron did respond although he was reluctant to give the IMI his backing with de-regulation and reducing industry costs being a focal point. You can read his letter here.

With IMI research indicating that 90% of businesses in the sector are in favour of licensing as they see it as a way to protect themselves from being undercut by rogue traders and 70% of voters believing the sector is already regulated, there is a strong argument for a mandatory ‘License to Practice’ for the motor trade.

It remains to be seen whether the current no regulation of car dealers and garages will remain or if the new Conservative government will indeed respond to Nash’s call. The IMI believes its own IMI Accreditation awards, incorporating qualifications for mechanics and its Professional Register, which continues to grow and now numbers around 40,000 members, should be the basis for any incoming regulation of the sector.

In his blog, written yesterday as the nation took to the ballot box, Nash reflected that a lack of understanding among political leaders  did not bode well for the introduction of licensing, he wrote: “I would like to say the responses [to his demand for mandatory licensing for mechanics]make interesting reading, but in the spirit of editorial honesty, they make for a depressing, rather than enthralling read. Not because they dismiss the concept of licensing – more because they reveal that public ignorance as to the nature of our industry very much percolates into the political establishment.”

The argument for technicians to be licensed and policed by an independent organisation isn’t new. In the past industry experts have called for a licensing system similar to that which exists for aircraft technicians.

The IMI estimates around 148,000 mechanics are operating in the UK whose skills and current competence they cannot verify.

Our view is that on the one hand such measures would protect both consumers and honest and highly skilled mechanics, although we recognise the potential cost to garage owners in a sector where margins are already squeezed would be of concern. We would welcome your thoughts.

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