Government proposals for a national licensing scheme for the hand car wash sector, to stamp out widespread illegality, have been welcomed by trade associations.

The proposal came from Matthew Taylor, the interim director of the Office for Labour Market Enforcement (OLME), who said: “This sector is endemically non-compliant and I cannot see any way to tackle that endemic non-compliance without a national licensing scheme. I also believe that such a scheme would be relatively straightforward to introduce.”

Brian Madderson, chairman of the PRA and Car Wash Associations, said: “We are excited that Government, through the Office for Labour Market Enforcement, is at last proposing practical measures to combat the fast growing, mostly illegal, trade of non-compliant hand car washes.”

He added: “It is a national disgrace that the UK has become the go to country in Europe for non-compliant hand car washes that openly flout tax, labour abuse and environmental regulations. They are a serious social blight caused by ineffective enforcement and contrast starkly with countries like Germany, Austria and Benelux which have virtually none.

“The sooner this new Government tackles this issue, the sooner will our rivers and countryside be freed from toxic chemical waste and labour abuse will be eliminated. We enthusiastically welcome Mr Taylor’s call for a licensing scheme.”

The proposals were also warmly received by the Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS). Teresa Sayers, managing director of the RCWS, said: “The RCWS supports the recommendation that a mandatory licensing scheme be introduced for hand car washes. While we have identified compliant sites, labour exploitation and other non-compliances such as health and safety breaches, environmental pollution and failure to gain consent to operate are unfortunately commonplace. The continued presence and use of non-compliant car washes normalises non-compliance including illegal labour practices, and damages the reputation of the industry and those associated with it. It is important that compliant sites are recognised and the playing field levelled by the removal of rogue operators.

“The RCWS code of practice provides a compliance framework for hand car wash operators and can be used as the basis for a mandatory licensing scheme. The implementation of a mandatory licensing scheme must not be protracted, allowing rogue operators to continue to operate with impunity. It must also be applied consistently across the UK and appropriately resourced to ensure robust enforcement. The RCWS will continue to work with the GLAA, the police and local authorities to promote the RCWS accreditation as a pre-cursor to licensing.”