The basic premise runs like this....
For a not inconsiderable fee and proof of the existence of their Public Liability Insurance, a contractor is signed up to the chosen scheme and agrees to work with integrity and trust, to a minimum set of standards that is 'guaranteed' by the manufacturer backing the scheme.
In return for the membership fee, which in itself often eliminates the worst of the cowboys who are too mean to stump up the umpty hundred quid it costs, the manufacturer supplies the 'Approved' contractor with some slick marketing materials along with logos for their vehicles and company stationery.
Some schemes also offer a fairly basic website package to paid-up members.
When a client contacts the manufacturer looking for a reliable contractor to install their paving, they will be given the contact details of the 'approved' contractors that cover their postcode area. The client-contractor relationship then develops as usual, with a site visit, preparation of design, quotation etc.
Well, they gain some peace of mind in knowing that they have more than likely eliminated the worst of the cowboys, and they know that the contractor has been lightly vetted and declared 'compos mentis'.
They can often take advantage of Insurance-backed Guarantee schemes (at an additional cost, of course!) and they have the option to complain to the sponsoring manufacturer if the contractor lets them down or does a shoddy job.
On the downside, the client is often restricted to selecting products from the sponsoring manufacturer (although some contractors will offer products from manufacturers other than the sponsor of their particular list), and will be paying a premium for the benefit of having the chaff separated from the wheat.
It's basically another form of advertising for the contractor.
It's highly targetted, in that they are not listed with brickies, painters, sparks and chippies under the catch-all title of 'Builders', and it's still cheaper than an advert in the Yellow Pages or Thomson Local.
It has the added kudos of allowing the Contractor to declare themselves 'Approved' and therefore add a small premium to their costs. They also have the technical back-up of the sponsoring manufacturer, enhanced marketing materials and rapid access to samples and catalogues.
Some schemes operate an annual competition and give awards in categories such as 'Best Patio' and 'Best Driveway'
Call me a cynical owld sod if you will, (" You're a cynical owld sod, Tony! "), but the manufacturers have not established these schemes for the sole benefit of the client or the contractors - it's for their benefit primarily, and if it helps the clients and the contractors in the process, that's a welcome bonus.
These schemes often turn contractors into unpaid Sales Reps for the manufacturers. The 'approved' contractors are turning up on the client's doorstrep, eager to sell not just their construction skills and expertise, but also the products of the sponsoring manufacturer....and they're actually paying the manufacturer for the privilege, which means, at the end of the day, the client is paying!
Whilst these schemes are a positive move by some of the key players in the industry, the approved lists are not infallible and they are not industry-wide; indeed, they are specific to each manufacturers' products and a contractor that is 'approved' by one manufacturer may not be 'approved' by others. There is still no nationally recognised and tested training scheme for Block Paving Layers or other paving contractors.
Contractors that repeatedly 'break the rules' can be thrown off the list (allegedly) and lose their 'Approved' status, but they can't be prevented from carrying on as contractors. Work that is seriously sub-standard will be corrected at the expense of the list sponsor, but by then, the damage is done; the client is disenchanted, the job has been delayed and the paving trade takes another knock.
Overall, choosing a Contractor from an approved list is still a better idea than sticking a pin in the 'phone book, or accepting the bargain offer from the fellah that knocks on the door with a load of blocks left over from a job up the road.
Accessing the Lists:
Some of the bigger lists of vetted (ish) paving contractors are....
Tel: 01335 372289
Web: Bradstone Assured
Brett Approved Installers
Tel: 0845 608 0570
Tel: 0345 820 5000
Web: Marshalls' Register
Tel: 0845 072 1150
Interlay is the only nationally recognised and manufacturer-independent association for contractors specialising in block and flag paving.
For the list of Interlay members....
Interlay - The Association of Paving Contractors
Tel: 01206 212067