HC Deb 15 February 2001 vol 363 cc217-8W
Paddy Ashdown

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what the extent is of delays for the installation of new central heating systems under the home energy efficiency scheme; what the reasons are for such delays; and if he will make a statement. [150416]

Mr. Meacher

The new home energy efficiency scheme (HEES) for England was launched on 1 June 2000. It is managed by two regional scheme managers who are responsible for marketing the scheme and surveying homes to identify the improvements required. Once these are agreed with the householder, a works order is placed with local contractors. The time taken between the date of survey and the actual installation of gas central heating systems varies across the country, although in most parts it is less than three months.

The reason for the delay is the national shortage of qualified heating engineers which has severely affected the rate at which central heating systems are being installed under HEES. To address the problem, scheme managers both continue to seek additional qualified heating installers and to encourage existing installers to increase the number of installation teams dedicated to HEES.

While these efforts have cut waiting times, the referral-based nature of the scheme means that this period can change rapidly. For example a large number of applications from a locality can substantially increase waiting times in the area. Both scheme managers continue to advise local groups of the period of delay in each area, and to display this information on their websites.

The longer-term solution to the problem is to increase the number of trained gas engineers. In conjunction with Transco plc and the gas industry national training organisation, we have introduced training programmes to provide an additional 400 gas engineers each six months to work under HEES. As these engineers become available, so the present delays should be reduced substantially and the scheme be better able to cope with short-term fluctuations in demand.