The votes are in…

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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In the final analysis, the British electorate has voted to leave the European Union. Over the last few months the polls have reflected a gradual shift towards leaving, so today’s results are, in some way, unsurprising. I don’t think I’m alone, however, in registering concern at the outcome of this referendum.

As I said in a previous blog post, the implications of the path that has been chosen concern me. The very real prospect of negative impact on our economy; the re-writing of 40 years’ worth of rules and regulations; the potential threat to our security that leaving might pose. All of these give me cause for concern.

The EU has changed dramatically from the one that originally comprised six founding states – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. As I said previously, with 28 members the issues and complexities surrounding union are greater than before, and can often seem intractable. Yet the EU is, to a great degree, the ”devil we know.”

So, while these are very much early days, pulling out of the EU may now throw the nation into a period of prolonged disruption, for no clear advantage. It’s for this reason that I stated my position to be a “reluctant European”.

What’s next?

In terms of next steps, the referendum provides a clear indication of the people’s wishes, but in itself does not trigger the departure from the EU. Unlike the 2011 referendum on electoral reform, which included an obligation on the government to legislate in the event of a “yes”, the concrete results of today’s news have no legal consequence.

The referendum clearly provides a mandate, however, for those that wish to leave the union. The next steps therefore will require the UK Government to invoke chapter 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which is the mechanism by which EU members may leave the union.

Crucially, the manner of achieving this is down to the member. I cannot imagine that the Government would take such a significant step without some form of parliamentary approval, although this presents a challenge at the very first hurdle – for a parliamentary vote on the referendum results might be taken as an attempt to overturn the ‘will of the people’.

Given that some mechanism is found to ratify the decision supported by the referendum, article 50 then allows the UK two years to negotiate a mutually acceptable withdrawal from the EU. Whether this is achievable in that timeframe is questionable – but the two-year deadline is a ‘hard stop’ to proceedings.

Looking much further into the future, I remain concerned about what we have let ourselves in for. There is a mass of legislation in place that will need to be repealed and replaced. These rules cover important regulations that govern our industry, and others, and to which all organisations currently work.

For example, The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) is our implementation of the European Union Business Transfers Directive.  Will it be ripped up and renegotiated, causing uncertainty and confusion in the marketplace?

As David Allen Green wrote in the Financial Times (£) shortly before the referendum:

“The task of repeal and replacement will take years to complete, if it is ever completed. Even if the key legislation — especially the European Communities Act 1972 — is repealed there will have to be holding and saving legislation for at least a political generation.”

Regular readers know my views on bureaucracy. I am usually first in line with the matches when it comes to a bonfire of red tape. But I wonder if we appreciate the scale and complexity of what we are embarking on – and the uncertainty that our voyage will create?

What would you do if disaster struck?

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 live in uncertain and worrying times. The current UK threat level for international terrorism is severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely, and there appears to be a proliferation of natural disasters such as flooding, storms, fires and even sinkholes, occurring with alarming frequency. It’s not until an unplanned and unexpected event occurs that an organisation’s true vulnerabilities are exposed, which is why organisational resilience is far more than just a trendy buzz-phrase – it could be the difference between the destruction of a business and the potential loss of life, and staying safe and secure.

Working in the security industry, it’s always surprising just how often I hear the words ‘it’ll never happen to us’. I think there’s a certain amount of denial in people not wishing to think the worst and trying to remain optimistic. Although there’s nothing wrong with a bit of optimism, when it takes the place of realism it’s a problem.

Even though the world has become a more dangerous place since 2001, the need for organisational resilience should not be thought of only in terms of terrorism – there are of course the problems associated with more natural disasters.

We can all remember a couple of years ago when torrential rain triggered flooding, affecting many homes and businesses. Major cities are not immune from mother-nature’s wrath either, and as recently February this year flood alerts were put in place for London after the River Thames burst its banks due to tides and heavy rain. A total of 16 warnings were issued, as water levels reached almost as high as the pavements in some parts of central London.

Therefore, having a strategy in place that can help deal with an unplanned event while it is actually happening is vital in order to protect people and property. Organisational resilience is the term used to determine how adaptable, competitive, agile and robust an enterprise is, and encourages a proactive and determined attitude to dealing with incidents. Put simply, it should be on the radars of public and private enterprises of all kinds.

In late 2014, BSI published BS 65000 Guidance for Organizational Resilience. This landmark standard provides an overview of resilience, describing the foundations required and explaining how to build it in to all aspects of an operation. It deals with an organisation’s capacity to anticipate, respond and adapt – which could be crucial to its survival. Organisational resilience works alongside existing risk, crisis and business continuity management strategies to provide a solid defence against anything that could affect an enterprise.

Although they are linked, organisational resilience should always be considered separately to disaster recovery and business continuity. While these two processes deal with the immediate after-effects, organisational resilience is concerned with what happens during an event itself. There are three key elements to organisational resilience – anticipation, preparation and response. It involves being aware of potential situations and the risks, vulnerabilities and capabilities involved in dealing with them, as well as the need to be able to make informed tactical and strategic decisions.

The best way to maximise the effectiveness of such a strategy is by integrating and coordinating the various operational disciplines throughout an organisation. Security forms an important part of organisational resilience, regardless of whether it applies to physical, financial, personnel, cyber or any other asset. Effective resilience requires more than just a defensive security and protection approach though, and necessitates the use of an organisation’s inherent strength to withstand a crisis and deflect attacks. While all of the above is vital, so too is stakeholder buy-in. Certain individuals must also be given decision-making responsibilities for major calls such as whether to evacuate, invacuate or even lockdown a premises.

In my opinion, this is where specialist security services providers like Corps Security, which can deal with the wider issues surrounding organisational resilience, are an important part of the jigsaw. The ability to complete strategic security reviews, develop corporate security policy and strategy documents, carry out risk and threat assessments and security audits, as well as train personnel, should not be underestimated.

Enterprises that take organisational resilience seriously increase their chances of maintaining successful and thriving enterprises that can deal with unplanned events immediately, rather than relying on a disaster recovery or business continuity strategy to kick in. If all organisations take this step it will also strengthen the national infrastructure, which is why influential bodies like the government’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) are taking it so seriously.

So is organisational resilience scaremongering or a call to action that should be heeded? I know what I think and I’d like to hear your opinions on the subject.

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A voyage into uncertainty

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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With just a few weeks left until the public takes to the polling booths for the UK’s European Union (EU) referendum, debate is still raging about whether the nation’s future would be better served being in, or out. In my opinion the process so far has been riddled on both sides with conjecture and misinformation. All this has served to do is leave voters confused, and not enough is being done to inform UK businesses and the public at large about the true impact of Brexit.

Not surprisingly, politicians and other commentators have resorted to scare tactics, while Boris Johnson and David Cameron seem embroiled in a personal battle that does little to truly inform the debate. With so many potential ramifications, I think that people will go with their gut instincts and focus on the issues that are important to them.

The question is whether their concerns about national sovereignty, immigration and/or the growing power of Brussels, will outweigh the possible damage to trade relations, foreign policy and national security.

Weighing up the choices

For most of us the issue is not black and white and the outcome will be very close. In fact, results from a poll of polls conducted by NatCen Social Research suggested that exactly 50 per cent of voters support Brexit and 50 per cent would like the UK to remain.

It’s time to state my personal position (and not that of Corps Security) and whilst I firmly believe that many of the EU’s systems and legislation could be greatly improved on, in my opinion the pros of membership outweigh the cons. From a purely economic and business point of view, the UK is deeply connected by trade to the rest of the EU, with just over 44 per cent of all our exports going to Europe. Those in favour of Brexit counter that the UK is an important market for EU members such as Germany, France and Italy and point that the UK accounts for 16% of EU exports – although in fairness a far larger share of EU exports, some 45%, go to the rest of the world.

Regardless, there’s no doubt that a decision to leave would have significant consequences for business. However, the extent of any disruption would very much depend on the terms and timing of new trade agreements.

Again, the simple truth is that we simply don’t know what would happen. Those in favour of leaving have used comparative analysis with Norway and Switzerland to try and paint a picture about how a non-EU UK would look and operate. Even then there are different ways to go – Norway is a member of the European Economic Area and pays most of the regular costs of EU membership to retain most of the same trade privileges. Crucially, Norway must apply the same free movement rules as EU member states, but has no vote on the rules. Switzerland uses bilateral trade agreements, as it is part of the single market in goods, but not services. EU citizens are permitted to live or work in Switzerland.

However, Justice Minister and senior Leave campaigner Michael Gove recently said that the UK would surely quit the single European market in the event of a vote to leave the EU; an event that a large majority of economists suggest would be the most disruptive option for the UK. In reality, leaving the EU but maintaining access to the single market would mean paying a similar contribution to that paid at present and still allowing freedom of movement. Yet these two issues are central to the Leave campaign cause, and Brexit campaigners feel passionate about removing them.

Extricating the UK from Europe would not be an overnight process. Pinning our hopes on carving out separate trade agreements with various countries sounds fine in principle, but how long would it take and what would happen in the meantime? During his visit here last month, US President, Barack Obama, stated that it could take up to 10 years to negotiate trade deals and that the UK would have ‘less influence in Europe and as a consequence, less influence globally’. Some accused Obama of using scare tactics and UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, dismissed his comments as ‘utter tosh’. I’m not sure. Negotiations between Canada and the EU on trade have taken seven years to date, and the agreement as it stands still has to be ratified by the European Council and Parliament

The dangers of disruption

For me the biggest cause for concern about leaving the EU is the disruption to business that it could cause. Indeed, we’re already getting a taste of it, and in April the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook stated that the EU referendum campaign has created uncertainty for investors and weakened the pound. It said that between August 2015 and February 2016 the pound depreciated by seven per cent, although sceptics have pointed out that the IMF was circumspect about how much of this was down to the possibility of Brexit.

There is also the concern about legislation. Brexiteers point to a perceived mass of red tape issued from Brussels; yet the OECD claims that the UK has the least-regulated labour market in Europe. Further, as a leader in the Economist noted of UK legislation: “The most damaging measures, such as planning restrictions and the new living wage, are home-grown.”

The legislation that can be traced back to Brussels often took many years to negotiate, and this is now firmly set in stone. Unravelling this legislation may be unnecessary, or indeed undesirable, but it may simply be too tempting for a future UK government to avoid taking apart – so creating yet more uncertainty in the market. Witness The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE), which is our implementation of the European Union Business Transfers Directive. Leaving the EU would give those in power carte blanche to amend the current TUPE process – one that on the whole works well for the business to business industry in creating a marketplace where companies do not compete on the basis of who would exploit the workforce the most. Any changes to TUPE, rather than making life easier, could once again make life a whole lot more complicated and throw the whole B2B services market into confusion.

A secure future

We also need to consider our role in preventing the rise of global terrorism and working with other EU member states to combat Islamic State (IS). This is an area of major concern and the recent horrific attacks in Brussels not only reminded us of the lengths Islamic extremists are prepared to go, it also highlighted how vulnerable we are.

The cooperation between the police and the security services across Europe is a major advantage in the fight against terrorism and the UK has a considerable role to play. Furthermore, as a part of the EU, we are currently able to gain access to a network containing details of 300,000 wanted criminals and missing people, in addition to benefitting from the European Arrest Warrant process.

Although others agree with former MI6 head, Sir Richard Dearlove, that EU-based security bodies are of ‘little consequence’, I believe that changing the system now could potentially leave gaps that could be easily exploited by those with malicious intent. This view is shared by former MI6 boss, Sir John Sawers, who has warned that an independent UK would be shut out of decisions on the issue of data sharing.

There’s no doubt that if we decide to leave there will be repercussions for those operating in the UK’s security industry. How extensive these changes could be would depend upon the type of business concerned. For instance, for those operating in the UK only, border controls and duty would obviously be less of an issue than for those providing products and services further afield.

Being pragmatic about a passionate issue

Ultimately, my fear is that the broader uncertainties created by a vote to leave would affect all of those in the industry, whether they operate solely in the UK, or in the EU.

It’s true that the EU is a very different beast to the one that originally comprised six founding states – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Now with 28 members, the issues and complexities surrounding it are greater and can often seem intractable.

Yet we have to put emotion to one side and be practical. The issue is simply too important and it would carry too much unnecessary risk to pull out of the EU and throw the nation into a period of prolonged disruption for no clear advantage. For this reason I am, as the Economist put it in a recent article, the “Reluctant European”.

The views stated in this blog are personal to Peter Webster and are not necessarily representative of Corps Security’s position on this subject.

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Has common sense prevailed about business licensing?

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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Over the last month or so, I’ve been carefully studying the Security Industry Authority’s (SIA) Draft Corporate Plan, incorporating its Strategic Plan 2016-19 and Business Plan 2016-17. It was under consultation until last Friday and views were being sought on the proposals, so that the next phase of the SIA’s work reflects the opinions and priorities of those who buy, supply or rely on private security.

There are some noble objectives outlined and my overall backing of the SIA was reaffirmed, however, I was particularly keen to scratch the surface and find out what it plans to do with regards to business licensing – an idea that regular readers of my blogs will know I don’t support. In fact I’ve spend much of the time since 30th June 2014, when Lord Taylor stated that the government expects the introduction of the statutory licensing of private security businesses, fervently giving the reasons why the whole concept is flawed and why, in the absence of any hard facts, our industry representatives should not be giving any support to these ‘half-baked’ and poorly communicated proposals.

As an aside, I recently took the opportunity to ‘lobby’ (her words – not mine!) the Home Secretary, The Rt. Hon Theresa May MP, at a social event. She was amused that the subject had come up in such surroundings…

The SIA’s last desperate attempt to sway thinking in favour of business licensing focused upon the false notion that it would help eradicate the number of criminal gangs running security contracts. Then there’s the additional bureaucracy, time, inconvenience and uncertainty it would cause, including the requirement for companies to provide a yearly return evidencing continued compliance and pay an annual subscription fee. Not surprisingly, these elements of the plan have been somewhat downplayed.

It was claimed at the time that there was industry support for business licensing, but how could there be when so much about the proposal is unclear? While a rough indication of the likely cost of a business licence was provided, nothing was revealed about the reduced cost of an individual licence, while an estimate of the costs of the administrative burden to companies was also absent.

So, bracing myself for further lobbying on the issue, imagine my surprise when having reached the end of page 19 of the document I hadn’t come across one solitary mention of business licensing. To be perfectly honest I didn’t know what to make of its absence – perhaps the whole idea has been shelved and SIA Chairman, Elizabeth France, has reconsidered her stated determination to push regulation as far as possible. Could it have finally dawned on the SIA that the needless introduction of two layers of licensing would simply mean swapping a scheme that adds value for one that has none whatsoever?

So what’s the initiative that adds value? It’s the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), which is designed to raise performance standards and assist the private security industry in developing new opportunities. The ACS was developed in consultation with representatives from across the industry and covers those parts of it that are regulated by the SIA and the Private Security Industry Act 2001. In effect, it is a type of business licensing scheme – albeit voluntary – that already exists and achieves its objectives.

It should not be forgotten that the ACS is a major revenue stream for the SIA, which receives funding from two main sources. Around 90 per cent comes from licence fees and ACS subscriptions, with approximately £2.5m comes from the Home Office, as grant-in-aid for capital expenditure. In fact, it appears that the Home Office is the only body in favour of business licensing, rather than government or industry.

Corps Security has been a member of the ACS since 2006 and I’ve always found it to be a rigorous scheme that is applied well, although there is room for improvement in terms of scope and effectiveness. Put simply, at the moment scores are not published and although I can understand why, it does mean that a company with 10 points out of 170 has equal standing to us, with 156 points.

I would therefore suggest that in order to drive best practice and encourage companies to get more points and improve levels of service, a tiered system should be employed. This could be as simple as having bronze, silver, gold and platinum designations and would offer competitive advantage, without giving individual scores, by publishing the names of organisations in each group. In addition, the SIA could do more to raise awareness of the ACS amongst end users and turn it into a real quality mark. Although it already does this to a certain extent through its audit process, the SIA could also provide more guidance about how to get more points and, as a result, increase the value that it offers participating companies.

Back to the SIA Draft Corporate Plan and one expression that was used in it struck me as rather odd, which was ‘right touch regulation’. It’s one of those catchy buzz-phrases that appears to make sense when it is first read, but actually means very little when you really start to think about it. The document also states that its vision is for a ‘private security industry so committed to improving standards and protecting the public that it needs minimal regulation’. Put these two statements together with the SIA’s backing of a new business licensing system and its position on regulation seems confused at best and, at worst, misleading.

I sincerely urge the SIA to focus its attention on developing the ACS and maintaining the rigorous standards of individual licensing that have transformed the industry, something that is to its immense credit. However, I happened to notice that the aim is to publish the final SIA Corporate Plan by 1st April – I’m just crossing my fingers that I’ve not been fooled into getting my hopes up about the end of business licensing.

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A back door… or a trap door?

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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Apple boss Tim Cook has today hit back at the FBI over a court order issued to help the US agency unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook. Farook, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in the attack in December last year.

Mr Cook had previously defended the company’s refusal to comply with the FBI’s order that it remove security blocks on Farook’s device so data on it could be accessed and help the FBI in its investigations.

He said the FBI was asking the company to make “the software equivalent of cancer”; as it would effectively open a back door into the iOS operating system that could threaten users’ privacy, put consumers at risk of cyber fraud, and invite covert monitoring by government or law enforcement agencies.

And in an irony perhaps not lost on Apple, opening up the iOS operating system could actually benefit those same criminals or terrorists keen to exploit these holes, or seeking ways to cover their tracks.

“The protection of people’s data is incredibly important. And so the trade-off here is we know that doing this could expose people to incredible vulnerabilities.”  Mr Cook told ABC.

When asked if he was concerned that Apple may hinder investigations that could prevent a future attack, Mr Cook said: “Some things are hard and some things are right. And some things are both. This is one of those things.”

However….

While Tim Cook fears our exposure to “incredible vulnerabilities”, I cannot help think that we are at far greater vulnerability to the type of globalised, highly-organised and ruthless terrorist activity that Farook potentially represents.

With the horrific memories of Bataclan still fresh, is Silicon Valley going to take the risk that a refusal to allow the authorities into a terrorist’s phone may result in another heinous, terrorist incident with the loss of many lives?

As I have said before, those with nothing to hide should have nothing to worry about.  The so-called Snoopers’ Charter presents no threat to those without criminal intent.

The suggestion that allowing the FBI into a terrorist’s smartphone is a mortal attack on our civil liberties misses the point.  The real point is that there are too many real mortal attacks that are taking real lives at the moment.

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Is naming and shaming always fair?

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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Employers who have failed to pay their workers the National Minimum Wage have been named and shamed. Of the 92 employers named by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills on 5 February 2016, TSS (Total Security Services) Limited, London is the biggest offender, having failed to pay £1,742,655.56 to 2,519 employees.

TSS mainly operates in the retail market and, with a turnover last reported at £65m, it is a significant presence in the industry, occupying the number 12 spot in the Infologue Top 30.

It does strike me that naming and shaming companies that technically, rather than knowingly, breach national minimum wage rules seems a little unfair. And, while ignorance is of course no excuse in itself, closer analysis reveals that an administrative error was to blame. As a TSS spokesperson told FM World:

 “We have always paid staff above the minimum wage and only took part in an HMRC-approved Salary Sacrifice Scheme because it benefitted staff, increasing their take-home pay.”

 “We made an inadvertent mistake when a technical rule in this Scheme changed, (after it ran successfully and compliantly for over three years), and which our professional advisors did not pick up on audit.  As soon as the mistake came to our attention, we withdrew the scheme in 2014.”

As an organisation we have paid very close attention to National Minimum Wage legislation and we have introduced new systems and procedures to comply with the rules.  Yet it is hard to eliminate all potential for administrative oversight. With complex contracts and large payrolls becoming the norm in the security sector, the potential for non-compliance – even by accident, as seems to be the case with TSS – is considerable.

Regardless of how the rules were transgressed, it’s disappointing that security is specifically identified by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills as one of four sectors that has not complied with rules that came into effect in October 2015. Once again our industry is getting bad PR.

It therefore begs a question: where is our regulator, the SIA, in this? TSS is on the Approved Contractor Scheme that the SIA administers. The purpose of the ACS is to “raise performance standards” and I would suggest this therefore demands strict adherence to the rules and regulations, and a need for robust business systems to deal with them.

Yet what, if anything, is the SIA doing to help those on the scheme navigate the legislation?  With businesses wading through so much red tape, how can the SIA and, indeed, the sector’s trade association, the BSIA, best provide guidance to those in the industry?

Finally, what does it say for the ‘joined-up Government’ that is often talked about? Is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs talking to the SIA, as well as the BSIA, to ensure the sector is fully aware of, and acts on the rules?  We need to know.

Businesses or employees who have any questions about the National Minimum Wage can contact Acas online by visiting www.acas.org.uk/nmw.

Jumping through the hoops of energy reduction legislation

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 one of the estimated 9,000 ‘large enterprises’ within the UK, Corps Security has just completed and submitted its Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) audit to the Environment Agency. I’m delighted to say that we beat the 5th December 2015 deadline by a comfortable margin, but having gone through the process and seen at first hand the time, trouble and expense of doing it, I’m left with the feeling that it was nothing more than fruitless exercise that is indicative of the type of red tape that is becoming all too common on the subject of energy saving and carbon reduction.

Not surprisingly, ESOS is necessary due to our membership of the European Union (EU) and was announced by the government in 2014 as its initiative for implementing Article 8 of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive. I should point out that Corps Security is neither pro or anti our membership of the EU and we are far from flippant about the need to reduce our impact on the environment. In fact, we are proud of our ISO 14001 certified environmental management system (EMS) and were one of the first companies within our sector to use low carbon vehicles.

However, I’m sceptical about the government’s claim that, as well as making a significant contribution to its Energy Efficiency Strategy, ESOS will drive the take-up of energy efficiency measures amongst businesses, thereby enhancing their competitiveness and contributing to the wider growth agenda.

Why? The simple answer is that after completing the compliance process, there’s no statutory requirement for companies to undertake any activity as a result of the recommendations. The government is effectively hoping that having gone to the time and expense of complying, companies will take subsequent action. However, I think that this is a false expectation and that many organisations will simply do the bare minimum.

Although the government pledged to minimise the administrative burden placed on businesses, there’s little doubt that the audit process is a significant drain on resources. I have the sense that because compliance is limited to companies that employ 250 or more staff, or that have an annual turnover in excess of around £42.5m and an annual balance sheet total of around £36.5m, it doesn’t matter and an attitude of ‘they can afford it’ prevails. My view is that while resources are being spent on ESOS, they’re not being used in more worthwhile and productive ways.

Government figures suggest any action taken as a result of findings from ESOS audits could lead to an average 0.7 per cent saving per enterprise, which is expected to provide a net positive benefit to the UK of between £0.8bn and £3bn, with a central estimate of £1.9bn between 2015 and 2030. While this might sound impressive, I believe that forward thinking organisations will already be doing all they can to reduce any harmful effects they have on the environment by developing processes to lower energy, reduce waste and pollution, and mitigate the risk of emergency situations. As there is no legal requirement for companies to act upon the findings of an ESOS audit, those that have no interest in taking action will simply not bother.

Then there’s the issue of what will be done with all of the information that is collected. Given that we live in an age of ‘big data’, it is surprising that there will be no central repository for all the information that is collected from the 9,000 or so companies undertaking the process. This is another missed opportunity, as crunching the numbers would provide a valuable insight into how energy is being used. It could also help to identify the types of measures that could be implemented in the future to help other organisations reduce consumption.

Enforcement is another big concern. Qualifying organisations that did not complete an ESOS assessment and notify the Environment Agency by 5th December are at risk of enforcement action, including the possibility of civil penalties. However, it is possible for the Environment Agency to waive or modify enforcement action and penalties relating to non-compliance, and for the first compliance period it is not expecting to take enforcement action for late notification, provided it is received by 29th January 2016.

In fact, according the Environment Agency’s own figures just 4,000 eligible businesses had declared compliance by 5th December, while another 2,500 had notified it that they intend to comply by 29th January 2016. This leaves thousands of eligible UK companies still to advise the Environment Agency and are potentially open to significant penalties for non-compliance – currently a fine of £500 per day for non-submission up to 80 days and then potentially a £50,000 fine. The question is are they bothered?

ESOS is just the latest in a range of schemes designed to reduce energy usage and its success depends on whether the boards of the nation’s largest organisations decide to act upon the recommendations outlined in their audits. If they do, all well and good, however, I can’t help thinking that many will simply not bother and ESOS will become just a tick in a box

 

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