As 2021 comes to a close, so does my membership of the Electrical Contractors' Association. But who are they, why did I join and why am I resigning as a member from 2022?
The Electrical Contractors' Association was formed to represent the interests of those who design, install, inspect, test and maintain all things electrical. It's been around since 1901 and has had a say in defining how the electrical industry in the UK has been shaped and standardised almost from the first days of buildings being wired up and powered on with this whizzy wonderous electrical wizardry.
They're a powerful member driven industry voice, and becoming a member delivers certain valuable perks which can see the cost of association easily being repaid. In-house risk assessment and method statement tools, (relatively) low-cost access to the library of British Standards, lower cost medical insurance, a way into accredited schemes such as TrustMark, JIB and CHAS, the sharing (pooling) of labour resources between members, networking between members, technical and legal advice and a whole host of other goodies are on tap to make them a no-brainer for any electrical outfit working in the commercial sector.
And that's what my company was when I joined ECA in 2017. Nigel and I had Dior on the team, we were VAT registered and we were looking to expand more into a commercial arena where ECA membership made sense. But in addition to the practicality of joining, it was also something I aspired to be a part of. Not as an active member you understand; I'm not about to join committees, attend member meetings or play any other meaningful role simply because I don't have the time. Besides, those sorts of activities tend to be undertaken more by people who have political aspirations - those who need to have their say and who want to feel they're proactive in positive change.
Hell, I can have my say right here in the blogs on this website and on YouTube; I don't need to preach to a committee and nobody gives a toss for my opinion on the state of things anyway! Nonetheless, the ECA logo, like that of NICEIC, was one I myself recognised from before my time in the industry, so being able to flash it alongside my own name meant to me that I had made it to where I wanted to be. I'd gone from a background as an ineligible outsider to being far enough on the inside that I could now claim legitimate association as a fully paid-up and approved member.
I guess that makes me sound a bit sad, but yeah, it was a symbolic thing mainly. I'm sure those going through a mid-life career change as I did ten-years ago will be able to relate as they'll also be looking at these logos and thinking that one day, they'll have put enough into it that they too will be in that place.
Romantic as that may sound, 'that place' usually means crawling through someone's attic or basement I find. Still, I'd rather be doing what I'm doing now than what I was doing before 2012.
But if ECA are so great, why kick 'em out of bed now? Well, the problem I have with them is the 'C' word.
That's... uh... "Contractor" of course (I don't know what word you were thinking of). Their idea of a contractor is one who undertakes commercial and industrial electrical work, and as the mere house-bashers we now are, I don't feel there are any services ECA offer at my end of the industry for the money; that money being 700 quid a year with the VAT I can no longer reclaim.
700 notes is a lot of beer tokens just to be flashing a logo. Admittedly, it does get me some other perks - a reduction on Part-P notification fees through NICEIC (itself a saving of about £40 in 2021), a nice A4 desk diary (except not in 2021 because of COVID for some reason), a magazine of industry news, though I also get such from the NICEIC and through free copies of Professional Electrician, and free membership to TrustMark which is the government's Alternative Dispute Resolution service, although I have ADR via my membership of Which? and I've previously left Trustmark in a huff following their allowing a fraudulent chancer to join the ranks.
Outside of those benefits which are useful to me in a small way, I have access to all the other services of course:
Training courses... generally on highbrow or niche corners of the industry I'm not working in.
Reduced cost access to British Standards... for an additional annual three-figure sum.
Technical support... which I have via NICEIC.
Legal advice on contracts... I don't need it.
Access to schemes such as CHAS... I don't need it.
Access to industry reports and surveys... I don't need it.
Employee relations support... I.. don't need it... although Nigel and I are likely to kill each other one day.
Optional free JIB membership... I'm pretty sure the J in JIB stands for Joke, but I don't need it, am not eligible for it and wouldn't deign to evacuate my arse into it if it were handed to me in a guilded urn.
Access to eRAMS for risk assessments, method statements and construction phase plans... used it twice in five years.
Warranty/bond services... which I imagine are as useless as those offered by NICEIC/NAPIT and co. I haven't looked at the small print, but these things usually have enough get-out clauses to ensure those who've been stiffed over won't be getting anything too useful anytime soon.
Industry events... I've attended but one back in 2018.
Industry awards... ah yes. These annoy me. This is where ECA really stuffs the ghurkins into my burger...
Here I am paying for a bunch of benefits that don't cover my sector of the electrical industry at all and feeling, as I do, that my sector is not only not being represented, but sneered at. Domestic electrical? What proper contractors would be seen dead doing that? Yet, the ECA claims to be representative of the electrical industry as a whole and by its own press states that it has helped to shape where we are today with over a century of input.
Well in that case, why are there so many problems with today's regulations? Stupid common-sense things that never get addressed or resolved? That jerks my chain about the likes of ECA, NICEIC, NAPIT et al. They bleat on about representing us and fighting for our corner, but every new amendment and edition of BS7671 has the same daft shit which nobody ever changes and new daft shit that nobody seems to have thought through.
But it's the ECA patting itself on the back that I find unforgivable to the point where I no longer want to remain a member. It holds glitzy industry awards where a bunch of old-boy white guys running big construction outfits all turn up with their wives decked out like it's a fucking Oscar ceremony, hosted by some newsreader or regional weathergirl, to vote for each other year-on-year as being the best in whatever large-contractor categories they can come up with. My 700 quid is largely going behind the bloody bar at an awards gig I'll never attend or be eligible for, while the dinosaurs of electrical yesteryear puff cigars and congratulate each other on yet another fine acceptance speech as they funny handshake each other over another fine whiskey I helped pay for.
Taken from their Farcebook page: the juiced-in all having a jolly time. I say, fancy a game of golf old boy?
Or, at least, that's the perception, and not just mine either. But I admit, this relationship breakdown is as much my fault as theirs because, aside from money, I don't put anything into my membership of ECA, so why should I expect to get any more out of it? Still, I think they'd do better to tier their membership structure and charge less for those who aren't going to use or who aren't eligible for all their services. At the time of writing, their own website says they have 2754 members including me which is a low figure considering all the organisations working in the electrical industry in the UK. Out of the many sparky's in the Leamington and Warwick area, from single operators to multi-van outfits, my departure now leaves just five who remain with ECA membership, and all are large firms in the commercial arena. I was the only member in my locale who specialised in the domestic electrical sector.
And that's the whole problem with the ECA. The "C" word to them is "Commercial" or "Contractor", but those aren’t the "C" words people tend to use alongside my name...
I am an electrical contractor, but not in a part of the industry the ECA makes enough effort to represent, so I won't be giving them any more of my money. They had the following graphic at the end of the proposal they sent me as to why I shouldn't leave...
Yes. Unfortunately, I can. But let me ask this in return...
Postscript, 1st January 2022
I notice the membership number has dropped from 2754 when this article was written on 28th December down to 2710 today. It seems I wasn't the only one bugging out for the new year; another 43 individuals or organisations also called time. With membership at £585 each (ex VAT), that's £25740 ECA are losing in fees as they start 2022. If this keeps up, those funny handshakes may be made with some sweaty palms. ECA need to think more about the one-man-bands, the small contractors, the domestic arena and what value they can offer to make membership a must-have, or they risk fading into irrelevance.
1st January 2023
I saddens me to report the ECA continue to haemmorage members. This time last week, the count had dwindled down to 2675 as 2022 had worn on, but a check on New Year's Day shows them starting 2023 with just 2526 firms on the books. It seems that, year-on-year, the dinosaurs are dying off and there's no young blood to replace them. I'm not aware of any panic setting in or any change afoot to make them attractive to anyone and everyone in this industry, but at some stage the alarm bells will surely start ringing as the cash register stops doing so? Perhaps when the membership count is a lower number than the year? It doesn't look like that'll take too long.