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UK lags on RAC training

The UK is still playing catch-up with its European rivals on RAC training and regulation, according to the new representative on the board of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration European Association (AREA).


Graeme Fox, managing director of Dundee-based HVAC firm Specialist Mechanical Services and council member at the Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association (HVCA), has been appointed as a director on the new board. The position is set to be confirmed by the AREA general assembly in October.


Mr Fox said 'harmonising' levels of training was one of the key targets set down by the board to try to ensure common standards are developed within the European Union (EU). This is partly in response to the increasing movement of people across country boundaries, especially workers from new member states.


But, he stressed, the UK could not be complacent and had to raise its own standards.


Mr Fox, who focuses on technical issues within AREA, said: 'The UK is not the market leader in Europe on these issues. Look at the situation regarding cowboy workers. It is far easier for a cowboy to set up a business in the UK than in most European countries, where you have to be properly registered.'


Mr Fox supports setting up rigorous individual and company registration schemes through the implementation of the EU's F-gas regulation - which set down new legal obligations for the handling, recovering, supplying, installing, manufacturing and ownership of equipment containing refrigerants.


He said: 'F-gas has concentrated our minds, but the rest of Europe is way ahead of what we are doing at the moment. Certain countries, such as Hungary and Holland, have had very substantial mandatory schemes in place for some years. We have a lot of catching up to do.'


Mr Fox believes organisations such as AREA are taking on more importance in an enlarged European Union as new states join. 'In the past they might have looked to the UK for leadership and guidance, but now they very much look to AREA,' he said.


Ben Brown, president of the British Refrigeration Association (BRA), said: 'There is a bizarre contrast between our technical abilities in the UK and our support for training. In technical terms we are market leaders - possibly globally on commercial refrigeration in relation to pack technology system design.


'It is ironic that F-gas and regulations on ozone-depleting substances will have the most dramatic impact on the RAC industry ever, but it is nothing that we could not have done ourselves if we had had the mind to do it.


'BRA has been campaigning for more strategic training and higher levels of working practice and skills, but no one has been interested because of commercial considerations.'


Cedric Sloan, director general of the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations, said the free movement of workers in the European Union required harmonising standards, but he feared the F-gas regulations were 'arbitrary and political'. 'There are things required by the regulations that RAC professionals do not see as requirements in the UK, but they have been imposed on us by Brussels,' he said.


He stressed the UK Government was not providing funding to help small companies cope with the additional training costs, but added: 'The Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board has worked wonders with City and Guilds to develop the necessary qualifications. Although it will take several years, UK craftsmen will be able to meet these training requirements.'