The building standards profession in local authorities is responsible for delivering the verification service in Scotland. Verifiers carry out the important function of protecting the public interest by providing an independent check of applications for building warrants to construct or demolish buildings, to provide services, fittings or equipment in buildings, or building conversions.
In 2018, following high profile building failures at Edinburgh schools and in response to the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London, the Compliance and Enforcement Review Panel, chaired by Professor John Cole, identified the need to strengthen skills, training and competence of local authority verifiers. The subsequent public consultation confirmed that action was required to address these challenges in the short, medium and long-term.
Scottish Government has also recognised the need to develop the building standards workforce as highlighted by the New housing and future construction skills: report.
In response, Scottish Government published the Workforce Strategy for the Building Standards Verification Service on 1 October 2020 with an endorsement from the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning. The aim of the strategy is to strengthen the operational resilience of the building standards service to deliver a first class verification service by developing a workforce that has the competency and capability, skills and experience to carry out the verification role. The strategy sets out national and local level commitments for change, which are fully supported by Local Authority Building Standards Scotland (LABSS) and professional bodies representing members across different construction-related disciplines.
Looking to the wider work ongoing in the UK following Dame Judith Hackitt's Report Building a Safer Future May 2018, competence in the built environment has been identified as a significant concern. The approach in England was to set up the Competence Steering Group for Building a Safer Future (also known as the competence steering group, CSG). The group set up thirteen separate working groups that report to the CSG. Working Group 6 (WG6) is dedicated to Building Standards.
It is our intention to consider the synergies and benefits between the Professional Framework and Competency Assessment System (CAS) in Scotland and the wider work in the UK proposed for building standards competence in England. Although the Scottish building standards system differs from that in the rest of the UK, there are benefits to be gained from taking a consistent approach for overall building safety.
There are three key documents that seek to standardise the approach to competence in the construction sector and wider built environment.
- Setting the bar – A new competence regime for building a safer future, by CSG October 2020 sets out a new competence regime for all professionals in the construction industry and for a Competence Framework to be developed into a BSi (the BSi Flex).
- BSi Flex 8670v 1.0 Built Environment – Overarching framework for building safety competency of individuals – Specification. Currently in draft format the BSi Flex specifies requirements for sector-specific competence frameworks for individuals working in the built environment. The approach taken by the Building Standards Professional Competency Framework (Professional Framework) has synergies with the BSI Flex to achieve a consistency in approach so that professional bodies, who accredit building control professionals in both Scotland and England, do not have conflicting competence requirements, see British Standards Institution - Project (bsigroup.com)
- Recommendation on the future regulation of the Building Control Sector and Profession in England by the Future of Building Control Working Group. The report makes specific proposals for a Draft Building Control Competence Standard for further development. This is at an early but relatively detailed level of development, and the approach taken by the Professional Framework also has synergies with this standard.
In Scotland, our approach to taking this forward is to standardise how competency and capability are assessed at a national level by implementing the Professional Framework supported by the introduction of the Competency Assessment System. As work progresses UK wide on competence, with a focus on the development of the BSi Flex, this Professional Framework will be reviewed and updated.
Lasting and meaningful change can be achieved by ensuring there is a cohesive building standards profession across Scotland. The long-term outcome is a profession that has the required levels of professional competence and the capability to meet demands of the service.