Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 48

Submission from the National Federation of Roofing Contractors


  The National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) participates in the Eur-Active Roofer project, funded by the European Commission, designed to establish best practice and quality in microgeneration systems and to foster the industry's growth. In light of concerns about non-roofer solar panel installers working at height and with roofing materials, the NFRC has designed a course for TrustMark-endorsed roofers to build a reputable skills base for roof-mounted and roof-integrated solar panel installation. The Federation believes that renewable electricity-generation technologies would be much better supported by reduction or abolition of VAT on installation, rather than the present inequitable grant-based system. In addition, making these technologies a requirement of all BSF schools would stimulate technological development and help achieve the Government's carbon-reduction targets.

  1.  The NFRC is by far the largest and most influential roofing association in the UK, accounting for approximately 60% of all roofing work carried out by value and covering a wide variety of roofing disciplines. The Federation has a long history of working with manufacturers, trade members and providers of vocational training and is active in lobbying government on a variety of issues affecting roofers. This statement makes comments on several of the inquiry's themes, including the deployment and commercialisation of renewable technologies, government incentives and the skills base.

  2.  The NFRC was invited in July 2005 to participate in a European Commission-funded project into microgeneration called "Eur-Active Roofer". The purpose of the project is to establish best practice and quality in microgeneration systems, to learn from the mistakes of the past and to grow the industry in a professional manner. At the beginning of the project, a figure of €2 billion was quoted as the estimated damage caused across Europe by poor installations and/or products. The NFRC has focused its efforts on trying to prevent this occurring in the UK.

  3.  The Federation has undertaken a great deal of research into how renewable energies may impact on the roofing industry. It has become clear that the most urgent area to be addressed is the installation of solar collectors by non-roofers into pitched roofs. Historically, solar has been considered a complicated or specialist technology only to be installed by experienced "solar technicians". Consequently, a large proportion of roofing work has been going to electricians and plumbers who are generally better suited to interior work, such as wiring and plumbing, than trying to learn the skills and safety practices of weather tightness and working at height—the forte of the roofer.

  4.  In order to provide a spread of competent roofers across the UK with the skills to install solar collectors correctly and safely, the NFRC designed a one-day hands-on course covering a selection of roof-integrated and roof-mounted solar systems, in conjunction with manufacturers—SolarCentury, Viridian Solar and Alpha Boilers. The NFRC is also working with Worcester Bosch, the manufacturer favoured by British Gas. All these manufacturers have invested a great deal in research and development and have products with a clear division between the external and internal installation.

  5.  The course, which is part-funded by Eur-Active Roofer and ConstructionSkills, is only on offer to roofers registered with the government-endorsed TrustMark scheme. Training centres and colleges in all parts of the UK are now being used as host venues to deliver this course. The participating companies' details are placed on a database that can be accessed by anyone that is looking to find a roofer to install a solar collector. The NFRC's aim is for roofers to become increasingly involved in working with plumbers, electricians and specialist installers, either in a sub-contract capacity or (where appropriate) as fully accredited installers in their own right. By doing so, they can establish themselves as reliable and reputable installers of solar collectors on roofs in the UK.

  6.  The NFRC believes that the Government could do much more to support the development of renewable electricity-generation technologies, especially in terms of attaining carbon-neutral homes. Grant-based incentives, such as the Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP), tend to benefit large organisations, which have the administrative capacity to capture the majority of the grants, as was seen with the suspension of the LDBP Part I in March 2007 by the then DTI. A far more equitable and market-efficient system would be the abolition, or at least reduction, of VAT on the installation of microgeneration technology.

  7.  The Government could also aid the renewables industry by setting higher standards in the public sector. According to the Sustainable Development Commission, the schools estate represents almost 15% of UK public sector carbon emissions.[194] The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme is a very ambitious project but does not ostensibly include any prerequisite for microgeneration. It is already a requirement of Building Regulations that all new school buildings over 1,000 m2 in area should consider the use of microgeneration and some regional and local planning policies require new schools of this size to install on-site renewable energy to supply a proportion (typically 10%) of the predicted building's energy load. Making renewable electricity-generation technology a requirement of all Building Schools for the Future (BSF) schools would be a significant step towards achieving the Government's carbon reduction goals and would provide a considerable stimulus to the development of renewables technology.

January 2008

194   Sustainable Development Commission, Evidence 115 to the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee inquiry, "Sustainable Schools: Are we building schools for the future?", Seventh Report of Session 2006-07. Back

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