Vigilance is key: a response to the terrible events in Westminster

 

At Corps Security, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the four people who lost their lives, all those who have been injured, and the many individuals whose lives will have been impacted by yesterday’s horrendous terrorist attacks in central London, only a couple of miles from our offices.

Unsurprisingly, the response from the police, emergency and security services has been remarkable. It’s a testament to the professionalism and devotion to public service that underpins what they do day in, day out.  Londoners have also shown great resolve; not only in supporting those affected as the situation unfolded, but continuing their daily lives the day after.

While at the time of writing we know little about the perpetrator, this attack is a reminder that the emergence of ‘lone wolves’ – radicalised individuals that don’t appear to work as part of a group or cell – pose a significant challenge for the security services, as their willingness to act alone makes them hard to spot.

This makes it all the more vital that security professionals work with the wider security services and the general public in a comprehensive effort to increase vigilance and identify suspicious behaviour.

As security professionals, we must be on high alert to the potential impact of threats on the organisations that we are tasked to protect, reviewing contingency plans where necessary. Knowledge, information and intelligence must guide and shape this approach, especially in terms of risk and threat assessments, and determining security policy and strategy.

The public must do its bit by reporting any suspicious behaviour. As I have said before, ‘lone wolf’ terrorists are just as likely to be seen by ordinary citizens with good situational awareness as they are by an individual counterterrorism agent. A recently launched initiative by Counter Terrorism Policing urges the public to act on their instincts to help tackle the terrorist threat. Details of how the public can play its part can be found here.

Finally, all of us should familiarise ourselves with the ‘run, hide, tell’ advice produced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council so we know what to do in the unlikely event of a terrorist attack. More information can be found here.

We live in troubling times. Terrorist attacks such as those yesterday present a clear and present danger to our safety, and they are designed to challenge our freedoms and subvert our way of life.  Ultimately, our combined vigilance, strength of purpose and support for the services and organisations that work to keep us safe will defeat this threat.

 

 

Licensing and Regulation: A Personal Perspective

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 was invited today (14th March 2017) to speak at the Security Industry Association (SIA’s) stakeholder conference to share my perspectives on licensing and regulation. Regular readers of my blog will know that this is a subject close to my heart and so I thought it would be useful to share my presentation here. I would like to thank the SIA for inviting me to speak and I would welcome your comments on these thoughts.

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Industry Regulation

Firstly I should say from the very outset that, personally, I am a supporter of regulation. As an industry trusted to keep people and property safe we want to be regulated and, indeed, I’ve never met anyone who has advocated deregulation. However, we must be careful not to over-regulate.

I should also say that I am heavily in favour of the current system of individual licensing, as administered by the SIA. An SIA licence gives an individual a passport to employment, meaning he or she can work anywhere in our industry.

This is undoubtedly a good thing for both employees and employers. While it gives individuals freedom to work across our industry, when someone comes to us with a licence we know they have been vetted and trained to a basic standard and checked by SIA.

If I am to be critical of the current system, however, it is that it isn’t publicised enough. The wider public needs to understand that the SIA exists and gives a licensing framework for the industry. And when I say public, I include those that purchase and use security services, and the wider public.

Indeed, I fear that the wider public has a stereotypical image of a security guard, fed by portrayals in the media and fictional drama, as an unhelpful jobsworth, or lazy and disinterested.

This does a great disservice to the more than 300,000 people who work in our industry, are licensed and, by and large, are engaged and serious about the job that they do. As it is, the negative perception of security in society reflects on our people and creates a downward spiral of low self-worth which in turn invites lower standards and impacts on professionalism.

We need to flip this spiral around and build pride in our industry and the work that security guards do.  Awareness of individual licensing is key to this. With the police service facing financial pressures, the security industry plays an increasingly an important element in the National Security Infrastructure. If the public understood the process of licensing and regulation I am certain there would be more respect for the industry and a better understanding of the importance of its role.

Business Licensing

Now many of you will know that I am strongly against business licensing, the spectre of which continues to loom large over the industry. While some regulation is good, there is no justification for increased and unnecessary regulation: the last thirty years have seen business and government trying to deregulate wherever practical and possible. This goes against that trend.

Readers of my blog will know why I think it is wrong for our industry. Quite simply, I have not come across a convincing argument for it. Fundamentally, business licensing will create a greater burden on business, and at additional cost, for an already financially challenged industry.

Equally, I fear it is a step towards increasing the administrative burden on businesses, and away from the SIA. Indeed, this is shown here in black and white on one of the SIA’s own charts from 2015.  It’s also interesting to note that this chart in fact shows a decline in regulatory responsibility as the SIA transfers responsibilities to industry – is this really what we want?

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In short, business licensing would be another step towards increasing the costs to the security industry whilst also transferring administrative responsibility to businesses, as we have seen with the ‘Licence Management’ scheme.

I am also concerned that business licensing won’t even stop the behaviour it seeks to prevent.  I have heard claims from the SIA that business licensing will drive out organised crime.  Yet in all my time in the industry, I have never come across an operator that works within the commercial environment, and whom I have suspected of being linked to organised crime.

On a practical level, company law already exists to address illegal activity and, bearing in mind that even non-executive directors currently must have “non-frontline” individual SIA licences, do we really think that business licensing would improve on that level of vetting? And do we not think that the criminal fraternity is not clever enough to get around this? If criminals can successfully launder billions of cash in drugs money, do we really think a determined criminal organisation won’t be able to get around a self-administered vetting process?

Of course this means that, while business licensing would increase the burden on law abiding business, any unscrupulous organisation would not apply to the legal requirements anyway – so in fact the only companies really affected would be the honest and legitimate ones.

Finally, it strikes me that business licensing is simply unworkable. How will business licensing address the complexity of brass plaque organisations, or companies with overseas shareholders? How can you insist on regulatory checks on shareholders in a Belgian-owned business, or a holding company domiciled in Luxembourg?

The Approved Contractor Scheme

Now there is of course already a form of business licensing in existence, in the form of the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS). It is only voluntary, and I know it has many detractors.  But it is actually a hell of a lot better than not having a scheme at all, and I think it can serve a great purpose for our industry.

If we had a proposal to drop the proposed business licensing, but developed a mandatory ACS scheme, I could live with that.  Because all the reliable and trustworthy companies are in ACS anyway, membership of the ACS would only be a burden to the fringes of the industry that the SIA is seeking to eradicate.

Indeed, in many respects ACS status provides a level of rigour that I, for one, welcome.  For example ACS requires vetting to BS7858 which is far more robust than SIA licence requirements, as it looks at five year employment histories, for example.

Now I’m not saying the ACS cannot be improved, and I think we can indeed make it stronger. I know there are issues around how the scheme recognises self-employment, for example. But I believe that our industry and regulator working together can create a continuously improving scheme.

But like much of the good work of the SIA, the unfortunate thing about the ACS is that it is not widely understood. So we have a great opportunity to enhance the reputation of the SIA, the ACS, and thereby the industry.  To do this we need to ensure that the market and public at large knows that ACS exists, and that it is an externally-measured assessment of a business against defined standards. But it needs more buy-in and to be understood better.

How might the ACS be improved? Well, we should consider how it might be used to drive improvement across the industry – and drive out those on the fringes of the industry that proposed business licensing as meant to address.

At this point I should add I firmly believe that the ACS scheme should remain under the control of the regulator, and not be handed over to industry. This leaves the industry free to drive the improvement I talked about earlier.

However, one of the things we have at the moment is that, while ACS companies are listed, these could be companies with a score of 1, or 174. You wouldn’t know which was which. I know that this is by design, but with a mandatory scheme we can start to differentiate.

The ACS should encourage companies to strive to continuously improve their score.  While we don’t need to publicly compare actual scores, we have the opportunity to band companies – for example into bronze, silver, and gold, categories. Of course, those companies that have strived to get to a certain standard and achieved excellence can use their banding to differentiate their services in the quality end of the market.

Finally, we need to ensure that the market, the buyers of security services and the wider public, know that ACS exists, and the value that it brings to the security industry.

Final thoughts

Our industry plays a key role in keeping people and property safe around the UK and, at a time when police budgets are under considerable pressure, our industry’s importance to the UK security infrastructure cannot be underestimated.

I firmly believe the SIA should remain part of the Home Office, and maintain control of the ACS. As an industry, however, we have to better control of our image and do more to make those in industry buy into it – and help the wider public recognise the industry’s importance and appreciate its value.

Thank you.

 

 

Speak Up! – It’s time for the voice of the manned guarding sector to be heard

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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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.

The SIA Chief is open to debate

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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As the key driver behind regulation in the private security industry, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) is under the spotlight like never before. As someone that hasn’t pulled any punches when it comes to outlining where I think the organisation is going wrong, I was both surprised and delighted when Alan Clamp, its Chief Executive Officer, invited me to discuss some of the industry’s big issues.

It transpired that Mr Clamp is aware of my blogs and over the course of our candid and vigorous debate he remained open minded, genuinely interested and, just as importantly, was clearly someone with a clear grasp of the challenges he faces.

The first topic that I wanted to address concerned the ongoing problems associated with the SIA’s new online licensing system. To say it has not lived up to expectations was something that Mr Clamp acknowledged as being unacceptable. Without making excuses, he offered assurances that the issues are being dealt with.

Our conversation turned to the proposed introduction of the statutory licensing of private security businesses. Despite the fact that huge amounts of administrative duplication and expense would be required to implement it, the SIA still seems to see it as a potential way forward. I argued that the SIA’s claim to want minimal regulation cannot be reconciled with its support of business licensing – something that it was hard to gauge Mr Clamp’s thoughts on.

In my view, the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) already raises performance standards and assists the private security industry in developing new opportunities, albeit with lots of room for improvement in terms of scope and effectiveness. Therefore, I was pleased that Mr Clamp was receptive to the idea that the ACS could be an excellent basis for an initiative that could drive best practice.

I went on to suggest that in order to encourage companies to get more ACS points and improve levels of service, a tiered system should be employed. The SIA could then publish details of the different companies within each tier – it could be as simple as having bronze, silver, gold designations – and this would offer competitive advantage, drive up standards, and give end users a better idea of what to look for in a provider. In addition, I pointed out that the SIA should be doing more to raise awareness of the ACS amongst end users and turn it into a real quality mark. This would enable end users to gain an insight into whether a security services provider merely meets the basic criteria for approval or exceeds them.

I was then thrown something that in common parlance is referred to a ‘curveball’. Mr Clamp asked me how I would feel if business licensing was made a first step on the ACS ladder. Given that this would avoid duplication and negate the additional administrative and financial burden of business licensing, I have to say that the idea struck me as sensible, workable and potentially beneficial.

Our conversation soon evolved into a discussion about raising the overall status and professionalism of the security industry, as there’s no getting away from the fact that it suffers from an image problem. At this point Mr Clamp expressed his concern that there should be clear demarcation between what the SIA does as a regulator and the role of the industry, possibly through its trade body. I went on to state that we need a vocal, vociferous, and dynamic trade association to deal with the issues that are outside of the SIA’s remit – something that we are sadly lacking at the moment.

We did agree that a thriving business sector, which employs an estimated 350,000 professional licensed operatives, deserves more respect. This respect must be earned though and independently verified performance based accreditation, under the regulator’s control, and would go a long way in demonstrating that, on the whole, contracts are fulfilled and customers satisfied with their manned guarding services.

The success, perception and reputation of the manned guarding sector are inextricably linked to the people that work in it. The industry struggles to attract high quality individuals and we agreed that this was, in part, down to the low rates of pay that security officers often receive. Like other service industries, the impact of the National Living Wage is being felt with differentials being eroded. Mr Clamp and I exchanged a number of opinions and I explained why employers should pay the rates defined by the Living Wage Foundation’s Living Wage wherever and whenever possible.

We need to compete head on with other industries in order to be considered an attractive career choice. Some specialist security services providers like Corps Security are going the extra mile in terms of training and career development, but if things are to really change in this respect we will need to raise the profile of the industry at a macro level.

Our meeting concluded having covered significant ground, with food for thought on both sides. The task ahead of the SIA should not be underestimated and it is up to the security industry as a whole to question and support our regulatory body by working together. I therefore believe Mr Clamp’s willingness to engage in debate and discussion should be welcomed and built upon.

 

It’s time to cast a light in the dark corners of subcontracting

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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Subcontracting within the manned guarding sector is a fact of life and all medium to large companies have to do it occasionally. Indeed, subcontracting is a legitimate means of ensuring an excellent and consistent service, as it provides an invaluable backstop when planning relief staffing at remote sites, for example. As long as customer agreement is gained and a fellow Security Industry Authority Approved Contractor Scheme (SIA ACS) accredited organisation is appointed (two factors that Corps Security always insists upon), then subcontracting should not be a problem.

However, irrespective of what process-checks are in place, it is always a concern of mine that an appointed subcontractor might actually subcontract that work on again. There’s no doubt that this practice does go on, but the scale of this type of practice remains something of a mystery. When it happens, it can lead to a situation where the vulnerable are exploited and, as such, it does massive damage to the reputation of the security industry as a whole.

I realise this might sound melodramatic. Yet while it is possible to remain objective on the subject, it’s not until the issue becomes personal that we fully appreciate the consequences of what’s going on right under our noses. This happened to me recently, when one of our Key Account Managers contacted me with a story that confirmed my worst fears. I’ll share it with you.

We’ve recently been awarded a new contract, where the outgoing manned guarding services supplier (an SIA ACS registered organisation) had decided to use an ‘agency’ to supply relief officers and, it transpires, had been doing so for some time prior to losing the contract. As two vacancies existed in the site’s staffing roster, my colleague was contacted by the site supervisor because he felt that one of the officers previously deployed by the ‘agency’ – let’s call him ‘Mr H’, 22 years old – might be a suitable candidate.

My colleague therefore interviewed the young man in question. What then unfolded was a tale the like of which I hadn’t heard before. Apparently, the ‘agency’ was, in fact, an individual who would call ‘Mr H’ when some shifts were available, tell him which site to go to and paid him cash in hand for his efforts. He went on to say that while some weeks he would have plenty of shifts, sometimes he would not get a call for two or three weeks. I should point out that ‘Mr H’ had a valid SIA licence (which he’d paid for himself) and a legal right to work in the UK.

As if this wasn’t shocking enough, the interview then turned to the subject of pay. When he was told the rate of pay, ‘Mr H’ appeared delighted at the prospect. This piqued my colleague’s interest and he asked ‘Mr H’ what he was currently receiving. The reply was £6.00 per hour. I don’t need to tell you that a 22 year old, under the National Minimum Wage, should receive a minimum of £6.95. What compounded the issue is that he knew that the ‘agency’ charged the incumbent supplier £8.00 per hour!

At this point it is worth pondering the fact that this ACS registered company was willing to pay this ‘subcontractor’ only £8.00 per hour, knowing full well that this could not possibly cover the full extent of the wage related costs. Turning a blind eye to such a situation is morally reprehensible and casts a long shadow over the security industry as a whole. This is clearly an exploitative practice and it appears that an ACS registered company is effectively complicit in what has gone on. The real worry is that ‘Mr H’ stated that he has a number of friends that are doing the same thing as him.

The security industry likes to take the plaudits for its efforts in becoming a more professional sector through licensing, training and accreditation. And so it should, as great strides have been made to improve the reputation of the industry and the skills and knowledge of those working in it. However, to assume that we are beyond reproach just because we are well regulated and well managed is misguided – there is clearly something going on that we should not be turning our attention away from.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that what has been highlighted here is a widespread issue. Yet many of us may have suspicions that, from time to time, something is not quite right. We may suspect that abuse of subcontracting arrangements takes place, but when we meet the people on whom it impacts, there can be no doubt of the damage that is done.

Are we potentially closing our eyes to an issue that could really impact on our industry? For our part, while we only ever use ACS approved subcontractors with whom we have contracts in place that do not allow for further, second-tier sub-contracting, we are still going to double-check with them to confirm they are doing the right thing, and I would urge the industry as a whole to do likewise.

TUPE abuse is setting a dangerous precedent

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 Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations – better known to us all as TUPE – are designed to protect employment rights when employees transfer from one business to another. However, I’ve noticed a growing trend towards avoiding TUPE that not only threatens the entitlements of employees, but also the financial well-being of security service providers.

TUPE clearly states that employees of the previous service provider or owner automatically transfer to the new employer, and must be given the same terms and conditions. It applies to all companies regardless of size and provides clarity on outsourcing, insourcing and transfer of service contracts. I should point out that when the UK leaves the European Union (EU) TUPE will still exist in UK law, although the UK government will have the right to amend it in whichever ways it sees fit.

In my opinion the industry is a much better place for TUPE, as companies are not competing to exploit the workforce and try to win contracts by undercutting wages and eradicating existing terms and conditions. It provides a basic legal framework to adhere to and failure to comply can result in serious repercussions for any company guilty of flouting the law. Yet there has emerged a worrying threat to the protection of workers and the operational health of security service providers. This threat takes a number of different forms but all share the same intention of undermining the ethos of TUPE.

One particular case was that of McCarrick v Hunter in which the Court of Appeal held that TUPE did not apply in cases where a new client took over the facilities services, even though the service remains unchanged. Since then other dubious activities have begun to chip away at how TUPE is applied and in recent months there has been a sharp increase in the use of clauses in commercial contracts that try to avoid TUPE altogether.

One clause Corps Security came across stated, ‘The supplier warrants that it will undertake the services in such a way that none of the staff are specifically assigned to any or all of the services and that there is no organised grouping of employees dedicated to carrying out all or any of the services’. One way to comply with this would be to rotate personnel and make sure that no individual works on the same site for an extended period. This clearly is a case of trying to get around the ‘identifiable economic entity’ part of TUPE.

Other contracts state that if TUPE applies then the onus is on the security services provider to indemnify either the client or the company that takes over the contract, if personnel have to be dismissed. The implications of this move are serious and far-reaching for all in the manned guarding sector. If TUPE doesn’t apply then affected employees risk losing their employment and all accrued service rights. As for employers, they have the burden of being encumbered with a substantial unfair dismissal liability for which it is unlikely that they will have made financial provision. If the matter goes to court, it is unlikely that a judge would consider their lack of scrutiny as being a good enough reason for the contract to be overturned.

This narrow interpretation of TUPE is creating an uneven playing field and acting as encouragement to organisations to try and avoid its implementation. Although companies that are savvy enough to identify this kind of surreptitious behaviour will either decline the contract or amend it, those that aren’t could be at serious risk.

Even though instances of TUPE abuse are relatively rare, this is arguably more to do with the fact that we are operating in a low unemployment economy. Generally speaking, at the moment companies are happy for TUPE to apply, but the examples above highlight that instances of TUPE avoidance could gain further momentum if the nation’s employment situation changes.

Ultimately, there is no genuine advantage for any security services provider in accepting the types of terms that these onerous clauses stipulate, as they simply create uncertainty and put the contractor in a highly precarious position. Although there will always be a minority of companies prepared to take a risk if they perceive there to be a competitive advantage in doing so, it is up to the majority to make a stand and reject contracts that try to negate the use of TUPE. Equally, the government should recognise the value of TUPE, be rigorous in the clarification of its use and take steps to remove any ambiguities and loopholes that are currently being exploited.

The new SIA licensing system is a cause for concern

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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We all know that one of the main duties of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) is the compulsory licensing of individuals working in specific sectors of the UK’s private security industry. So given that having a licence is mandatory, you would assume that the aforementioned government body would make obtaining one as simple and hassle free as possible. Well if that’s what you think, then think again!

The SIA’s new licensing system was finally launched to great fanfare on 6th July this year following several weeks of testing – despite originally being planned for launch in December 2015. It promised to allow individuals to register for online accounts and apply for or renew SIA licences online, change personal details remotely and consent to link to their employer, who could assist with the application process.

Meanwhile, businesses were informed they could register for online accounts and have access to a range of new products. The SIA claimed, and I quote, that the new system would provide a more efficient, effective service to busy people and a growing industry.

As a company that embraces new technology and innovative ways of carrying out our activities, we were looking forward to this brave new world of security licensing. With eager anticipation, on 6th July we went online and were prepared to be amazed. Unfortunately, despite the SIA’s bold claims, we have found that the result of all its activity is nothing short of a complete and utter fiasco. When it comes to detailing exactly what is going wrong with this supposedly new and improved system, the problem is knowing where to start.

Although we received an email confirmation on 6th July telling us that we had successfully set up a business account, it took us until 23rd August to actually be in a position to get the system working to any kind of satisfactory level. As an SIA Approved Contractor we took the option to use the new Licence Assist service and fill in and pay for applications on behalf of our colleagues and check the licensable status of licence holders.

On 14th July we received an email stating that ‘Within the last few days you will have received a notification from us indicating the set-up of your Direct Debit for paying for licences using our new service is complete, unfortunately this notification was sent in error. We can confirm that the set-up of your Direct Debit is in progress and we expect this to take up to 10 days from instigation’. At this point we knew that things were not going to be smooth and, quite frankly, the whole process of setting up a Direct Debit was a farce. In its wisdom, the SIA even closed its contact centre, making it impossible to speak to anyone for advice about account set up and, just to compound the problem, response times were well outside of those stated.

Although the system now works in simple cases, it grinds to a halt where anomalies exist. We have had to ask our employees to try to carry out the process themselves and, if successful, claim the cost of the exercise back. With 1,000 people a year renewing licences, this has created a huge logistical and operational burden to us – one that we could really do without. A third of our applications are having problems and are now sitting in limbo.

Having recognised a problem exists, approved contractors were allowed to issue licence dispensation notices (LDNs) at an earlier stage of the application cycle for up to 20% of their workforce (a rise from the usual 15%) in order ‘to alleviate the impact on industry’. Initially, this interim measure allowed for a LDN to be issued for a period of five weeks but this has now been extended to 10 weeks. Although it means that we can continue to deploy staff to contracts this situation is far from satisfactory and the fact that channels of verbal communication are non-existent and online responses are taking weeks to come through really isn’t helping matters.

I can only assume that our experience is one that is being shared by organisations across the industry. As I write, rather than seeing improvement, the situation is getting even further out of hand and will surely have a real impact on how businesses are able to operate. It seriously casts doubt upon the SIA’s ability to configure a system like this and I can only hope that someone takes charge of the situation sooner rather than later.