I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
As far as general elections go, this one had more than its fair share of drama and one month on, and with the Queen’s Speech delivered, we are finally starting to get an idea of the direction of UK policy.
In many respects the result was a tale of two nations. While most of us expected a hung parliament of one kind or another, when the BBC’s exit poll stated that the Conservatives would win an outright majority, it was hard to believe. Let’s just say that very few people, thought Paddy Ashdown would actually have to eat his hat! – although I suspected that there may be a surprise outright win for the Conservatives as, against expectations, the UKIP vote seemed to be coming from the supporters of other parties.
While the success of the Tories was down to English voters, north of the border a seismic shift was created with the Scottish National Party (SNP) winning 56 of the country’s 59 seats. Although this result was greeted with a certain amount of incredulity by most commentators, I was less surprised, given the result of the Scottish independence referendum where 44.7% of the voters supported the Nationalist message. What transpired was that the SNP achieved 50% of the vote in Scotland in the General election and was placed in the driving seat when it comes to negotiating greater devolution. Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, recently stated that his party wants to negotiate the transfer of even greater tax and welfare powers to Scotland.
The Scotland Bill will make Holyrood responsible for raising about 40 per cent of the country’s taxes, with powers to set the thresholds and rates of income tax included in the legislation. SNP MPs at Westminster will no doubt be pushing to make the Scottish government responsible for raising all the money it spends. No surprises there then, but we have to be careful that any moves in that direction do not harm businesses that conduct their operations in both countries. For instance, if income tax levels are different and/or changes to the National Minimum Wage (NMW) are made independently, then confusion could reign. We must be careful not to create a situation where Scotland sets the agenda for the rest of the UK and this surely strengthens the case for English votes for English laws (EVEL).
Moving away from this subject, the issue of zero hours contracts was a hot topic leading up to the election and I’m glad to see positive steps being made regarding this subject. The government acted in advance of the Queen’s Speech to outlaw the use of exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts and as part of the Enterprise Bill it indicated that there would be a further crackdown on the abuse of such contracts. Details are pretty scarce but the government has entered into a period of consultation on the issue and we can expect to hear more soon.
As I’ve outlined in previous blogs, although they are certainly being abused in some cases, when used correctly zero hours contracts are a force for good and offer flexible employment opportunities. Therefore, I think that any legislation must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and hinder the employment of those who are happy to work under this type of contract.
It’s also good to hear that a harder line will be taken against those failing to pay the NMW. A ‘naming and shaming’ process has already begun and the government has so far publicly named 201 employers who have failed to pay their workers the NMW, with total arrears of over £635,000 and total penalties of over £248,000. Companies could now face financial penalties of up to £20,000 if they don’t pay the NMW and shaming could also result in serious reputational consequences.
I’m pleased that this type of decisive action is being taken, as in my opinion we should all be working towards paying the Living Wage in the security industry as a minimum in order to benefit from increased staff motivation and retention rates, reduced absenteeism and recruitment costs. Hopefully, we’ll see greater moves in this direction going forward.
As a security industry professional, another bill that caught my attention was the Investigatory Powers Bill – colloquially referred to as the Snooper’s Charter. This was put on the backburner during the previous coalition government but the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has resurrected it, and as well as enabling the tracking of Internet and social media use, it will also strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications. Although this has not proved popular with civil liberties groups, those with nothing to worry about should not be concerned about this legislation, as we need to do everything possible to prevent terrorist attacks.
I’m generally positive about the moves outlined in the Queen’s Speech and feel that the issues I have outlined will be addressed thoroughly and fairly through the proposed legislation. However, my positivity is tempered by the growing threat of increased devolution and I fear that we haven’t heard the last about Scottish independence.