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.
Events in 2016 were proof positive that we should always prepare for the unexpected and that simply taking things for granted can leave the complacent well and truly on the back foot. With this in mind, I’m convinced that 2017 will be a year where those within the manned guarding sector will need to work together to deal with what is already a challenging and difficult environment.
In these circumstances, a vociferous, energised and dedicated trade association that can lobby and fight for its members’ interests is vital. It is therefore both annoying and frustrating that the manned guarding sector finds itself without this type of representation, particularly since we face the upheaval of Brexit, potential new legislation and increasing regulation. As evidence of this we have had a whole raft of regulations impacting on us, including The National Living Wage, the Apprenticeship Levy, Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) audits, auto-enrolment pensions to name only a few, which are having a significant effect on our industry, and we need a body that can raise our concerns.
Anyone who thinks that the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) is in any way willing or able to give guarding the voice it needs is, in my view, seriously misguided. The fact is that the BSIA has such a diverse portfolio of representative sections – 17 at the last count – that guarding is not given the time, energy and focus that such a large employment group warrants and deserves.
When I say large, it’s worth noting that with over 300,000 licensed officers this sector has twice the number of those working in agriculture, farming or fishing. Additionally, according to a report in Infologue, the top 30 guarding companies have a combined turnover in excess of £3bn – a huge figure. Yet we are seemingly invisible to other sectors of the security industry and it is exasperating that electronic security, whilst obviously important, is afforded a disproportionate amount of attention, resource and credibility within the wider security sector, including our trade media.
It’s no secret that Corps Security, along with a number of other guarding companies, has left the BSIA due to its woeful performance when it comes to representing our industry. Perhaps this is because it gets caught in a narrow focus of industry matters, rather than trying to influence macroeconomic policy at a strategic level. Whatever the reason, I sincerely hope that the remaining members of the BSIA can wake up and make the changes in strategy and leadership needed to give our industry the trade association it deserves.
In the meantime, time waits for no one and we need to shape public policy and political debate in those areas that directly affect the manned guarding sector. Prime Minister Theresa May has committed to triggering Article 50 by the end of March, signalling the two years of negotiations that will take the UK out of the European Union (EU). Brexit is likely to have a serious impact on our industry, as the changes to employment regulations could leave the sector significantly exposed to massive costs. Furthermore, changes to immigration rules could affect how we go about recruiting personnel to carry on this vitally important work.
Then there’s the proposed introduction of the statutory licensing of private security businesses. Having crunched the numbers, we estimate that business licensing would cost Corps Security around £50,000 a year. For those companies unlike us that don’t currently pay their employees’ SIA licence fees, the costs will come as a huge shock, while the additional bureaucracy, time, inconvenience and uncertainty caused would be an expense that, like other organisations in our industry, we would probably have had to pass on to our customers. Again, we need effective representation that can fight for our interests on these important issues and others.
We also need effective media representation to help promote our sector and raise its profile and status within wider society. As I mentioned in my last blog, there’s no getting away from the fact that our industry suffers from an ongoing image problem. I’ve lost count of how many times I have seen a security officer portrayed on TV as lazy, overweight or simply a ‘jobsworth’.
This is not a true and accurate image, and companies like Corps Security have worked very hard to counter this stereotype and present themselves as highly professional, accountable and forward thinking organisations. Guarding is an important part of the UK’s national security infrastructure and keeps people, property and assets safe. When this concept is promoted, acknowledged and accepted we may start to see margins improve and, as a result, more high calibre individuals will consider it an attractive career choice.
To me the problem is as clear as daylight, and I can’t believe that I am alone in thinking this way. However, doing something about it will require collaboration and cooperation from the sector’s largest companies and the individuals that run them. I would therefore welcome your views on how we can effectively represent the interests of the manned guarding community and give it the voice it desperately needs.