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The Association Of Specialist Underpinning Contractors has added a plus to its name. Chairman Vic Handley explains why.

In the seven years since the last surge in subsidence claims, the underpinning and mini-piling industry has seen both a downturn in business and, more worryingly, an exodus of skills from the industry.

However despite these difficulties, the industry's national trade association, ASUC plus, as it is now known, has not been deflected from its commitment to training, health and safety that membership guarantees.

These skills have taken many years to develop and are not easy to replace.

Diversification has been the key and many members now offer a wider range of services and techniques, reducing the proportion of their business which is insurance related.

Over a period of time, members have committed to training and developing new skills and now offer a full package solutions including underpinning, structural repairs and decorations; specialist structural repair techniques; and minipiling, not only for remedial works but also for new build foundation packages, using the skills gathered from their underpinning operations.

Another important new sector is basement construction, calling for piling and underpinning techniques, as a way of increasing the living areas of properties as a less expensive alternative to moving house. This type of work is often, though not exclusively, in the more upmarket London boroughs where property prices are high.

The relaunch as ASUC plus reflects these changes.

Over the last two years the idea of a name change has been mooted on more than one occasion. The problem was what to change it to.

ASUC and its logo have become a recognised and respected symbol of the industry in which it operates. The association has invested a lot of time and effort into promoting the name and what it stands for and it did not want to have to start that process all over again.

The answer finally came at a recent general meeting where we had a guest from the USA looking to adopt the associations' values and ethics for their industry. Our American guest simply sat back in his chair and suggested 'why don't you change the name to ASUC plus - that way you keep your identity and the plus immediately sparks the question 'plus what?' It was as simple as that and ASUC plus was born with the new wording of 'Subsidence repair techniques and engineered foundation solutions'.

ASUC plus still provides all the support clients need and the new name better reflects all the additional services members are able to provide on a truly national basis - this being reinforced by the first member in Scotland.

ASUC plus continues to set the standards for the underpinning industry. This year, for instance, after many months of hard work it issued its Health and safety guidelines on the safe and efficient working practices for underpinning and mini-piling operations.

In addition it has produced a technical audit document to measure members' performance.

The association will continue its proactive training programme with its commitment to NVQs for a variety of construction disciplines, including a new initiative for an NVQ for structural repair and multi-trade operatives.

ASUC recently extended its comprehensive defects insurance guarantees (DIG) to include new build foundations (FIG) and cover for basement construction, including a waterproofing package through the basement insurance guarantee (BIG) scheme.

Guarantees are now underwritten by Liberty Insurance, one of the largest insurers in the world which offers a 12 year guarantee on most ASUC plus members' products.

Over the years the association has been reinforced by the invaluable contribution of its honorary members which include the National House Building Council, the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters, the Association Of British Insurers, the Institution of Structural Engineers, the Building Research Establishment and, lately, the Health & Safety Executive. All of them take an active part in running and advising the association.

Add to this the dedication and hard work of many of its members, and all bodes well for the future.

The association will continue to encourage more companies to join this growing force.

lVic Handley is the chairman of ASUC Plus

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