ATTLEBOROUGH: A merchant’s view of the Government’s Green Deal was the focus of a constituency visit to Ridgeons in Attleborough by George Freeman MP.

Mr Freeman went to the branch as the guest of managing director, Angela Rushforth. Welcoming him was branch manager, Mike Fields, who toured the 6-acre site with Mr Freeman to show him the scale of the operation. The MP learned of the importance each of Ridgeons’ 22 branches plays in fulfilling the construction needs of the Eastern counties.

Mr Freeman heard how merchants are managing as the industry forecasts that construction will continue to decline over the next two years with no real sign of recovery until 2014. Angela Rushforth explained that the reluctance of banks to lend, the absence of first-time buyers, and homebuilders who mothballed developments meant Ridgeons faces increasingly tough trading conditions.

Ridgeons wants to see the return of a thriving repair, maintenance and improvement market as a way to revitalise the region’s economy. They firmly believe there is demand in most constituencies, which is being held back by economic uncertainty and consumers’ unwillingness to spend.

Praising the success of the Ridgeons team, George Freeman MP remarked: “I was delighted to visit Ridgeons here in Mid-Norfolk and learn of their contribution to the built environment. Mike Fields and his team are to be applauded on their efforts, despite testing economic times. It was good to hear from a local company about their plans for the future.

“Today was useful for me because I saw, at first hand, the materials and products that local SME trades are installing every day to properties in Norfolk towns and villages. I am also very sympathetic to the argument that we may need to look at tax breaks for energy-efficient home-improvement products - and will discuss this with ministers in the Department for Energy and Climate Change.”

Ridgeons wants Mr Freeman’s Conservative Party to stick to its declared aim of being “the greenest Government ever”. MPs and local councillors ought to take the time to encourage residents to carry out energy-saving work to improve their property, cut bills, and save money. For merchants, this means action like repeating the successful 2010 Boiler Scrappage Scheme.

The Green Deal

Last summer, George Freeman MP served on the House of Commons’ Committee that scruntinised his Government’s Energy Bill in detail. The majority of the Bill brought in the Green Deal - the policy designed to improve the thermal performance of homes and workplaces.

The BMF arranged this visit to coincide with a major consultation exercise by his Conservative colleague, Greg Barker MP, Energy and Climate Change Minister, to implement this legislation.

Ridgeons told George Freeman MP the Green Deal favours vertically-integrated national businesses that will dominate from the start in October 2012. The policy must allow merchants and their trade customers to participate on fair and equal terms to help his constituents to improve their property.

Ridgeons’ managing director, Angela Rushforth commented: “We believe that ministers should back merchants and their SME customers, so they are able to earn a living from improving homes and workplaces”.

“The Government says it wants private enterprise to lead the economic recovery and to do so it needs to act so that big corporations don’t dominate the market. This means customer choice would be restricted as well as threatening the livelihoods of small businesses.”

Mr Freeman heard that the BMF response to the Green Deal consultation urged ministerial colleagues to concentrate on these issues that concern merchants:

  • Assessments: how ministers protect customers by ensuring assessors are independent
  • SMEs: how ministers enable small & micro-businesses to secure Green Deal work
  • Incentives: ministers should use the next Budget to clarify existing VAT rules and rates and extend the 5% VAT rate to eligible projects completed under the Green Deal
  • Thermal performance: ministers ought to endorse and extol the ‘Fabric First’ approach
  • Demand: how ministers publicise and market their policy to inform the electorate and stimulate interest - so voters act to take up the offer and create jobs & growth.

Visit organiser and BMF policy manager, Brett Amphlett, added: “Merchants welcome the potential that the Green Deal offers - but the BMF harbours genuine concern. We firmly believe it must be predicated on routine work, done locally by competent people, delivered in large numbers, often by word of mouth referral, and using local suppliers.

“Dave Hartnett, the most senior HMRC tax collector, recognises that paying a builder by cash-in-hand denies legitimate income to the Exchequer. The Government has an opportunity with the Budget on 21 March to boost Green Deal uptake by extending 5% VAT to RMI work”.

During his visit, George Freeman MP also heard about:

  • Rising road fuel prices and associated driving and vehicle fleet management costs.
  • Certifying timber to the Forest Stewardship Council’s chain of custody scheme.
  • The Green Light brochure, published to help Ridgeons’ customers to comply with the Code for Sustainable Homes and Modern Methods of Construction.