It’s all to play for as we get ready to go to the polls

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.

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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 I write this blog, last Thursday’s Channel 4/Sky ‘election special’ programme is firmly in my mind and it brought into sharp focus just how tight this contest will be. With much more debate, comment and analysis to take place between now and 7th May, I’ve been giving some thought to the effect the policies of the Labour and Conservative parties could have on the security industry.

I should of course point out that although one of these two parties will almost certainly form the next government, with no outright leader in the polls the chances are that they will need to join forces with one of the smaller parties to form a majority. The success, or otherwise, of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat partnership of the last five years is a moot point and with public enthusiasm for government by coalition at its lowest in 30 years, that’s exactly what we look set to have. Therefore, the impact of the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party (SNP), UKIP and the Green Party etc. should not be underestimated.

With party manifestos yet to be published the issue of spending continues to dominate the political discussion. Broadly speaking, the Conservatives will focus on continued fiscal consolidation, UK devolution, and a renegotiation of EU membership, while labour will look towards a less aggressive deficit reduction programme in order to limit what it perceives to be the negative effects of austerity.

I think that the Tories’ promise of a referendum on EU membership will continue to cause a degree of uncertainty for those in the security industry that export their goods and services outside of the UK. Similarly, if Labour forms an alliance with the SNP, the whole issue of Scottish independence could raise its head again. While these macro issues are obviously important, it is only by drilling down into some of the specific points that we can identify what the effect each party could have on the security industry.

During the interviews Jeremy Paxman conducted with David Cameron and Ed Miliband during The Battle for Number 10 programme, zero hours contracts was a recurring theme. Regular readers of my blogs will know that I think that they can play a positive role in the security sector by offering employment to a diverse group of people who don’t want set hours and would otherwise find it difficult to earn money. That said, it is clear that some employers are abusing zero hours contracts to create an intolerable situation for their employees, either by putting them ‘on call’ 24/7 or by stopping them from taking additional work elsewhere. This is unacceptable.

However, I think that both the Conservatives and Labour need to be careful on this issue and stop relying on hyperbole. Labour seems most vociferous about exploitative zero hours contracts, with Ed Miliband claiming they have ‘no place in the 21st century’. The Conservatives seem far more circumspect and Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has argued that they ‘provide people with a flexible way of working and the freedom to arrange jobs around other commitments’.

Whichever way the pendulum swings on this issue, there are lot of people who could be affected by any changes. Data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) indicates that the number of people employed on zero hours contracts between October and December 2014, was 697,000 or 2.3 per cent of all people in employment. Of course nobody knows how many of these choose to have a flexible contract as it suits their lifestyle and alternatively how many feel that it is potentially exploiting them.

A related issue, and one that I have also blogged about recently, concerns how the two main parties will help the nation’s lowest earners enhance their pay packets. Wage rates in the manned guarding sector have been a significant cause of concern for many years and, to my mind, it is not helping our cause to improve the image of the security industry.

The government recently announced that the minimum wage would be raised by three per cent to £6.70 an hour from October 2015 – welcome news that will give a pay rise to over 1.4 million of the lowest paid workers in our country. Labour, however, has stated that it will raise the National Minimum Wage (NMW) to £8 an hour before the end of the next parliament and also promises to strengthen enforcement ‘so that those paying less than the minimum wage do not get away with it.’

I would like to see more employers pay the rates outlined by the Living Wage, wherever and whenever possible. The current Living Wage is 21 per cent higher than the NMW at £7.85 an hour and this rises to £9.15 an hour in London. During 2014 the number of accredited Living Wage employers more than doubled, with over 1,000 employers across the UK having now signed up. That said, any improvement to the NMW will have a positive impact on those at the sharp end of the manned guarding sector.

On a wider level, proposed changes to public sector procurement policy will also affect small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) like Corps Security. Labour has stated its desire to establish a Small Business Administration and even though this is a noble objective, it appears the Labour Finance and Industry Group’s recommendation is to ensure there is at least one procurement professional for every £1m of central government spend which seems ill-thought out as, for example, a £10m contract would require the employment of 10 different buyers to administer it!

The Conservatives, meanwhile, are ‘aspiring’ to channel 25 per cent of spend through SMEs and in 2014 it commissioned a report by McKain Consultants, which recommended simplify bidding for contracts and offering suppliers an even stronger route to challenge procurement approaches and decisions.

I’m pleased that both parties are pledging to do something positive on this issue, as in recent times the security industry has had to bear witness to what can happen when things go wrong. Who can forget the debacle when G4S was contracted to provide all of the security for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games? Contrast that with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where 16 different security service providers were used and it went without a hitch.

As the election race heats up, I’m sure there will be many more talking points to come. Please feel free to post your comments about which party or scenario you think would be the best for the security industry.

Another fine mess they’ve gotten us into

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.

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When news broke yesterday morning about an investigation by the BBC, which has uncovered that a large number of licensed security guards could be fraudulently working in the UK after buying Security Industry Authority (SIA) licences for cash, it was not the start to the working week that I had hoped for. If the allegations contained in the report are found to be true, the implications could be far-reaching and potentially devastating.

That some individuals and colleges are prepared to fraudulently sit exams or forge results in return for financial gain is shocking. It beggars belief that anyone who values the role security professionals play in protecting people, property and assets could sink so low as to jeopardise their safety.

Yet it seems that the problem could be widespread and the report heard from one former SIA employee, who claimed that a large number of colleges were involved in this activity. With the potential for a terrorist attack higher than ever, the fact that a researcher was able to fraudulently obtain an SIA licence and then received a job offer at a power station and an interview to guard Canary Wharf, will be ringing alarm bells amongst those procuring these types of services.

Along with all other security providers, we cannot know if the establishments in the report have certified any of Corps Security’s colleagues, as we do not receive their certificates, only their licences. The SIA receives confirmation of the examination certification as part of their work in approving licence applications.

The Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (OFQUAL) is responsible for regulating qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) regulating qualifications in Scotland. They appoint Awarding Organisations who develop qualifications and operate the examination system against the SIA specifications, there are 10 Awarding Organisations accredited at present. Most importantly they approve training and assessment centres, register candidates, provide evidence of their identity, award the qualification and input data into the SIA qualifications database. They must also provide quality assurance of the assessment and qualification process.

The training providers are responsible for delivering training courses that result in the qualifications required for an SIA licence. Significantly the training providers operate the examinations that lead to the qualification and this is where this latest scandal has emerged. Perhaps it would make sense for the examinations to be operated by the Awarding Organisations and not the training providers??

In reality the SIA is a long way from this scandal, but surely they have the responsibility for the overall quality assurance of the licensing process? This is a responsibility they have failed to execute in this case. The report highlights that the SIA has failed to fulfil its obligation to ensure the overall quality assurance of the licensing process. It has failed to be vigilant about the organisations it allows to conduct the training, assessment and certification of potential security personnel.

While deeply shocked, angry and disappointed that, once again, the security industry has been brought into disrepute by those working within it, I can’t help thinking that the proposed move to statutory licensing of private security businesses will only exacerbate rather than eradicate the problem.

It is claimed that business licensing and regulation will support those organisations that can demonstrate that they are ‘fit and proper’ to supply security industry services. However, if more of the vetting and approval work is passed to companies in the industry under business licensing, as opposed to being undertaken by the SIA, it stands to reason that we can expect even more corruption and fraudulent licence holders.

To qualify for an SIA business licence, an organisation must comply with issues surrounding identity, criminality, financial probity, integrity, and conformance with relevant British Standards. That’s all well and good if these organisations are all above board and 100 per cent legitimate. Back in the real world, the fact that business licensing will be largely self-regulating, with little in the way of an independent auditing procedure, opens the door to problems, and the government is simply deluding itself if it thinks otherwise.

The SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), which demonstrates that approved contractors are meeting the required standards each year, has far more compliance auditing than business licensing will.

Unfortunately, I can foresee the end of the ACS if business licensing comes into effect.

But if the SIA cannot get the licensing process right, what chance is there of successfully implementing business licensing when the dangers of rogue companies getting legitimate licences to trade are far greater?

And that’s not all. The report highlights that the SIA has failed to fulfil its obligation to ensure the overall quality assurance of the licensing process. It has failed to be vigilant about the organisations it allows to conduct the training, assessment and certification of potential security personnel. If the SIA cannot get this right, what chance has it got of successfully implementing business licensing when the dangers of rogue companies getting legitimate licences to trade are far greater?

In response to the findings of the BBC report, the SIA has stated that it takes allegations of training malpractice seriously. I am ultimately confident that the SIA will sort this out and eventually get it right as the current system is controllable. If some of these key responsibilities are left in the hands of ‘licenced security businesses’ there will certainly be unscrupulous licenced companies that will take advantage of the opportunity to employ people who have not been legitimately qualified to hold a licence.

The Living Wage is a step in the right direction

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.

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The level of wage rates in the Manned Guarding sector has been a significant cause of concern for many years. The advent of TUPE has prevented wages going backwards at a contract change but it has done nothing to help improve many wage rates.

It is not uncommon in the South East to see many examples of customers insisting on wage levels of £10.00 per hour plus. However we still see far more examples of security officers receiving the National Minimum Wage (NMW), especially the further North you travel in the country. When bidding for a contract, to comply with TUPE you have to maintain the wage levels currently paid, even if it is at NMW level.

It is a sad fact, but true, and it is not helping our cause to improve the image of the security industry. Ultimately wage rates are driven by what the customer is willing to pay, either directly or indirectly.

Over recent years, greater attention has been paid to the Living Wage, a campaign that was launched by members of London Citizens in 2001. The founders were parents in the east end of London, who wanted to remain in work, but found that despite working two or more National Minimum Wage jobs they were struggling to make ends meet, and were left with no time for family and community life.

The current Living Wage is 21 per cent higher than the National Minimum Wage at £7.85 an hour and this rises to £9.15 an hour in London. With a great deal of publicity being given to it, including endorsements from high profile figures such as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, it’s an idea that is growing in popularity. So much so that during 2014 the number of accredited Living Wage employers more than doubled, with over 1,000 employers across the UK having now signed up.

As a consequence we are starting to see more and more customers looking at ways to pay the Living Wage and improve the incomes of their manned guarding personnel. Companies are increasingly viewing their participation in the Living Wage as a ‘badge of honour’ and the campaign has, very cleverly in my opinion, drawn on their desire to demonstrate high levels of corporate social responsibility (CSR). They aren’t always doing it for purely altruistic reasons either – they realise that there are negative connotations in paying the National Minimum Wage, especially if profits are high. This is particularly the case in industries like the financial sector, which has some very high earners. How would the public feel if these companies were paying people National Minimum Wage to protect their people and property, while giving other personnel hundreds of thousands of pounds in bonuses?

Increased staff motivation and retention rates, reduced absenteeism and recruitment costs are common benefits reported following implementation of the Living Wage. These are all issues that directly affect the security industry and we all need to look at the long-term benefits of buying into this idea.

Sceptics might suggest that moving to the Living Wage from the National Minimum Wage simply means paying the same people more money for doing the same job. Although in the short term that’s perfectly true, it would also mean that those same people take greater pride in their work, feel more valued, are better engaged and are more committed to their roles. For employers, it means less staff churn and the ability to make a more worthwhile investment in training, as people are less likely to leave the company.

Looking longer-term, better pay also means that the industry becomes more attractive as a career and higher calibre people will want to join our ranks. Increasing the professionalism of the industry has been a focus of mine for some time and I think that this would be a great way to help achieve this objective. Ultimately, the Living Wage makes sense whichever way you look at it.

Spy in the sky?

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.

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The must-have Christmas present last year – particularly for boys both big and small – was a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). While to the uninitiated they might just appear to be a variation on the traditional remote control helicopter, sales of recreational drones are going through the roof with the basic flying craft costing around £50, right up to the sophisticated long range HD video streaming ones costing several thousand pounds. These machines can deliver incredible views captured from above and have the ability to stream video footage to a smartphone or tablet.

It should be remembered, however, that drones are nothing new and the first devices were used by the US military in the Vietnam War as reconnaissance vehicles. More recently, military drones have been fitted with missiles but their use has diversified and during 2014 many column inches were dedicated to the fact that companies such as Amazon and Google were suggesting they can develop them to deliver parcels. While for most people drones are just a bit of harmless fun, there is differing opinion about whether they are good or bad, and whether their use should be more tightly controlled.

I would like to start on a positive note by stating my belief that drones could be very useful in certain scenarios where security companies operate. A prime example is outdoor music concerts or festivals, where a drone could be used to monitor crowds and ensure that people are kept safe. A potentially dangerous situation could be identified early on and personnel on the ground could be deployed to attend before it escalates. Equally, they have great potential when it comes to monitoring remote sites such as reservoirs and oil installations, for example.

These devices can also enhance building access control, particularly in environments where there is a lot of perimeter fencing. A drone high up in the air can easily identify who is coming and going and it could be a lot cheaper than installing CCTV to cover the same area.

So, that’s the positive, what about the negative? There’s no doubt that they are being used for criminal activities, such as spying on people and even listening in on meetings and conversations through the use of advanced microphone technology. It’s something that was discussed at a recent Corps Security Breakfast Briefing by Jason Dibley of QCC Global, a leading expert in technical surveillance countermeasures. While it might sound far-fetched, Jason made it very clear, through a number of examples, that drones are being used in this way.

Then there’s the issue of drones being used where they shouldn’t be – often due to ignorance and stupidity. Last year a drone came within 20ft of a passenger plane as it was about to land at Heathrow Airport, while French authorities issued an alert when drones mysteriously appeared above nuclear power plants.

Perhaps more worrying though is how they could be used for terrorist purposes. Putting it simply, if a drone can drop a parcel then it can drop a bomb or missile, and last year Sir David Omand, a former director at GCHQ, warned that shopping centres, sporting events and public gatherings could face chemical or biological attacks by terror groups using drones. He noted that although such a scenario has so far not posed a real danger to UK citizens, it is a threat that the authorities took seriously during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Dealing with drones that are being used for malicious purposes presents its own set of problems though. Some of these devices weigh around 20kg and it is simply not sensible to just shoot them out of the sky or even to jam their operating signals – particularly if there is suspicion that it is carrying a bomb. In densely populated areas the consequences of such action could be catastrophic.

There have been calls for tighter regulation regarding this equipment and how it is used. However, introducing licenses and purchasing restrictions would only have an impact on legitimate users. Would it make a difference to criminals and terrorists? I think not. There are clearly good and bad uses for this technology and while there are no easy answers when it comes to how they are used, it is a debate that must continue.

25/02/2015… Since writing there has been some very interesting coverage on the BBC about mysterious drones flying above Paris at night.  See link.

A new form of threat to the UK

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.

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The brutal terrorist attack in Paris yesterday highlights once again that the threat from terrorism remains both real, and deadly.

It is important to note that yesterday’s attack in Paris on the offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was both specific in nature and intent, as well as being extremely well planned. Those who have viewed the horrific images and video clips of the attack would have been struck by the professionalism of the attackers, and their handling of their weapons. The ‘grouping’ of the bullet holes on the Police car windscreen, for example, revealed a high level of training in the use of assault rifles.

In addition, the attackers also knew exactly where to find their unfortunate victims, and appear to have had detailed knowledge of the layout of the interior of the premises they attacked. It is therefore almost certain that the terrorists had carried out pre-operational hostile reconnaissance in one form or another.

The most important issue must be the method of this attack. This ‘swarm’ attack method first became widely known with the 2008 series of twelve coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai. We have also seen similar methodology used in Africa in the January 2013 Tigantourine gas facility attack and hostage taking in Algeria, and the September 2013 attack on the upmarket Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

To my knowledge the Charlie Hebdo attack is the first time this form of terrorist attack has been seen in Europe.

However, I fear it will not be the last time.

The attack has led the French authorities to raise their terror threat category to its highest level. Whilst yesterday’s attack was very specific in its nature, such attacks could happen here in the UK. The current Security Services Threat level in the UK currently remains at its second highest, namely: SEVERE.

What steps can be taken by the management of businesses and organisations here in the UK to help prevent such attacks, as well as to mitigate the consequences of such attacks, should they occur?

Whilst we at Corps Security recognise that risk and threat levels will vary amongst our customer base, there are nevertheless some generic steps, or ‘Top Tips’ that can be taken to help when thinking about our customers’ individual and specific counter-terrorism measures and programmes:

‘Top Tips’:

  • Ensure there is a clearly defined security policy in place.
  • Maintain a good flow of intelligence and information, including close liaison with local Police and Counter-Terrorism advisors.
  • Have the right calibre of trained people in place, including well-trained Security teams, and run Security Awareness programmes for all staff and personnel.
  • Select appropriate technical solutions, especially to enable robust access control measures.
  • Implement effective operational procedures.
  • Ensure that control and supervision protocols are in place.
  • Carry out regular tests (including Penetration Tests) and drills of all security and safety systems.
  • Implement both internal and external security audits.
  • Ensure that Contingency and Emergency plans are in place and are easily accessible for all relevant personnel.
  • Always ensure that Security teams are alert to suspicious behaviour and activity in or around your subject premises or environment! As mentioned above, the Paris attack shows that the terrorists had done their homework, and had carried out pre-operational reconnaissance on their target premises.

The job of all of us is to maintain awareness, and to focus on identifying suspicious behaviour and activity. If something occurs that bothers you, or arouses your suspicion, or just doesn’t seem routine, then please: Report it! You may end up saving a life or lives.

Remember: everyone should always remain alert to the danger of terrorism and report any suspicious activity to the police on 999 or the anti-terrorist hotline: 0800 789 321

Grab the moment; and get serious about security

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.

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I wrote in a previous blog that cybersecurity is more than just an IT issue, and that physical security and IT teams must communicate effectively to better understand their respective roles, and ensure business operations are kept safe from harm.

The news that Sony Pictures has cancelled the release of its film The Interview this Christmas after sustained pressure from a hacking collective is particularly shocking, and as I write this the White House has described the security breach as a “serious national security matter.”

Certainly, it’s hard to imagine a more destructive breach of security in terms of damage to the reputation of a business – damage that, in time, may exceed the immediate financial loss that will arise from the film not being shown in cinemas at what is the busiest time of the year for cinema goers.

There are of course also implications for freedom of speech. What does it say when an anonymous collection of hackers (whether operating on their own, sponsored by rogue states, or funded by criminal enterprises), can blackmail a multi-billion dollar organisation and get their own way?

The decision to pull the film from a theatrical release was made on the back of threats made by hackers to the film’s audience, and the combination of cybercrime and physical threat is a particularly unpleasant and, it seems, potent mix. Questions may be asked about Sony Pictures’ reaction to the security breach, and I was heartened to hear President Barack Obama urge US citizens to “go to the movies” and so stand up to what is bullying on a massive scale.

If anything positive is to be taken from this, it may be that the incident marks the moment when things finally changed for the better. A security breach on such a massive scale and with such huge ramifications may mark the moment when organisations of all sizes finally recognise the need to treat security – both digital and physical – with the seriousness it demands.

It could be that the criminal activity that lead to Sony Pictures pulling a blockbuster movie provides the impetus for organisations for all sizes to ensure that they have a fully coordinated and integrated security strategy in place.

And, for those that worry about their cyber security, my previous comments apply, and I make no excuse for repeating them here. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to devising a security strategy and each organisation will have its own unique considerations. That’s why using an external specialist security services provider can be highly beneficial, as it will be able to carry out a full threat and risk assessment. This can also contribute to an overall cybersecurity strategy by ensuring that surveillance and access technology, as well as manned guarding, are full optimised to protect IT infrastructure.

As I wrote before, cybersecurity is important but it will only work if the rest of the pieces of the security jigsaw are in place.

The figures about criminal gangs just don’t add up

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.

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Around a year ago I wrote a blog outlining my concerns about the phased transition to a business-licensing regime that will run alongside a new individual licensing process. My view then was as it is now and I still believe that this will simply mean swapping a scheme that adds value for one that has none whatsoever, and the industry will suffer as a result.

On 30th June 2014, Lord Taylor, set out the Home Office position and said that the government expects the introduction of the statutory licensing of private security businesses to come into force in 2015. The Security Industry Authority (SIA) will continue to regulate the industry and will oversee this transition.

With a number of industry professionals sceptical about the benefits and many more just not sufficiently engaged in the process, -in order to try and add weight to their argument, the pro-business licensing brigade, including the SIA, has recently claimed that its proposals will help eradicate the number of criminal gangs running security contracts. Having heard this from a number of different sources, it’s a development that I find particularly concerning as it is based on some very dubious statistics and flawed logic.

Putting the numbers in perspective

I was recently informed that a Liverpool-based criminal gang which was running a security contract had been successfully put out of business; meaning that legitimate security companies are now fulfilling contracts worth around £3m. While I welcome the prosecution of any organisation that brings the industry into disrepute, a sense of perspective is required here. According to my estimates, based on available figures, £3m represents just 0.01 per cent of the total security sector.

For argument’s sake, let’s be generous and suggest that the total value of the contracts being carried out by criminal organisations is 10 times bigger than £3m. This would still only work out at 0.1 per cent of the UK’s security contracts and, therefore, it’s a problem that doesn’t really exist. It is my view that this figure is not large enough to warrant or justify the wholesale change of a system that, although not without its faults, continues to serve the industry well.

Added cost and complexity

It is claimed that business licensing and regulation will support those organisations that have been through relevant checks and due diligence, and can demonstrate that they are ‘fit and proper’ to supply security industry services. To qualify for an SIA business licence, a security business must comply with issues surrounding identity, criminality, financial probity, integrity, and conformance with relevant British Standards. This will require a business to ensure a licence application process is carried out for its employees that confirms an employee’s identity, address history, qualifications, and right to work in the UK.

A business licence will last for five years and companies will be required to comply with the conditions of the licence, provide a yearly return evidencing its continued compliance, and pay an annual subscription fee. It is claimed by the SIA that this will give businesses more responsibility for the individuals that they employ, and achieve a reduction in the regulatory cost and burden on the private security industry as a whole. Unfortunately, I believe that these claims are unfounded and, having crunched the numbers, we estimate that business licensing will cost Corps Security around £50,000 a year and, as yet, we have had no indication of the corresponding reduction in the individual licensing costs. Corps Security currently pays around £150,000 a year in licensing fees, so the individual license reduction must be at least 33% in order for us to be cost neutral. For those companies unlike us that don’t currently pay their employees’ SIA licence fees, the costs will come as a huge shock.

The additional bureaucracy, time, inconvenience and uncertainty it will cause will be a cost that we may have to pass on to our customers. Not surprisingly, they will be highly resistant to increased charges for security services, so it could mean that those who demonstrate continual improvement via the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) could decide to withdraw from it to save money.

The limitations of background checks

Going back to the subject of criminal organisations operating in our industry, the idea that business-based regulation will better control the type of companies that can operate in the sector is a smoke screen. As things stand, companies are not allowed to employ unlicensed individuals anyway, so by definition they have to be ‘above board’. The idea is to regulate the ‘controlling minds’ involved in security businesses but I am sure that organised criminals will be capable of avoiding direct association. Indeed, I am simply not convinced that the business checks will be rigorous enough to prevent criminal bodies from falsifying their persona and so cover up any unscrupulous activities. And what about foreign-owned organisations – how will they be checked?

Equally, the current situation allows individuals the freedom to change companies, while providing their new employers with the peace of mind that a new recruit has passed a rigorous set of checks. But who will be responsible if TUPE-transferred staff are found to have been vetted improperly?

Perhaps most importantly, the SIA has been good at making sure that only those who should work in the security sector are permitted to do so. The industry has over 300,000 licensed personnel, but tens of thousands of individuals have been refused licences. For a variety of reasons – from criminal records to unverifiable employment histories – these people have been deemed unfit to be in a public-facing role.

Taking the wrong course – in poor visibility

To address the situation, there is now a ‘Strategic Consultation Group’. This only has 31 members – less than 20% of whom actually run a security company today and 26% are SIA officials – and yet the future of regulation is being discussed through this group, which I find rather concerning.

Have the employers’ groups that are represented within the Group adequately consulted with their members about the impact of these measures?

The truth is they cannot adequately consult with their members because, as far as I can see, there is still a massive lack of clarity about the proposals regarding the true and accurate financial impact and the additional administration burden placed upon companies in the industry.

The new SIA chairman, Elizabeth France, has vowed to be ‘audacious’ and is determined to push regulation as far as possible; which means the SIA will do everything it can within the statute to move in the direction of travel that it thinks the industry and ministers want it to go in, and where it believes is best.

But how does the new SIA chairman know which direction the industry wants to go in? From the ‘Strategic Consultation Group’ alone? We have already established that it is not representative of the real industry. At a recent industry event Elizabeth France said that “a tick box approach to regulation doesn’t help anything,” adding that the SIA “…should be working with you to ensure that between us we take responsibility for raising standards but maybe the balance between us, as the industry becomes more mature and we understand our role as a regulator better, is that more of it is done by the industry… with the regulator helping and supporting.” This provides a clear indication of the intention to increase the administrative and compliance burden on the industry.

Time for action

In my opinion much of the support for the new regime is based on the fear that if we do not agree with what’s being offered, then the government will simply revert back to its previous position of deregulation. What we need as an industry are hard facts that can be discussed, but until we get them our industry representatives should not be giving any support to these ‘half-baked’ and poorly communicated proposals.

I believe we have to act in the best interests of all, and make our voices heard about the needless introduction of two layers of licensing.