My thoughts go out to our friends in Manchester

The full horror of what happened in Manchester last night is just sinking in. At the time of writing there are 22 dead and over 60 injured, after a suicide bomber walked into Manchester Arena following a concert by Ariana Grande and initiated the worst terror attack in the UK since the 7th July 2005 London bombings. Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins, said it was ‘the most horrific incident’ the city had ever faced.

Watching footage filmed inside the building after the bomb was detonated and seeing images of injured children and young people outside the venue fills me full of sadness, anger and a sense of determination that those perpetrating these cowardly acts must be defeated.

Last night also highlighted the important job our security services do in preventing more of these types of incidents. While every terrorist attack that is successful is one too many, lots more are prevented and we must all be vigilant in order to help prevent future atrocities.

I would also like to recognise the role my industry colleagues played in the immediate aftermath in terms of helping the injured and working with the emergency services. I’m sure that, faced with a similar situation, manned guards from up and down the country would have acted in the same manner. Security personnel deal with serious situations each and every day and their actions usually go unrecognised, which is why greater respect needs to be afforded to those who perform security related tasks.

Like others around the UK, the vigilance and awareness of all Corps Security’s site based and other uniformed colleagues is being raised in the face of yet another example of brutal terrorism. Corps Security’s personnel were on standby overnight and will be busy providing ongoing reassurance to customers, and in particular to those which operate places of entertainment and where there is high footfall and a regular presence of members of the public. Meanwhile, colleagues in our events teams will be ensuring that all appropriate emergency and contingency plans for events are checked and understood.

It goes without saying that security professionals must be on high alert to the potential impact of threats on the people, property and assets they protect, and review contingency plans where necessary. However, in order to stand the best chance of spotting terrorists, the public must also do its bit by reporting any suspicious behaviour and the National Police Chiefs’ Council needs to do more to promote the advice offered in its ‘run, hide, tell’ policy.

The events of last night have sent shockwaves around the world and are a clear indicator of the type of havoc that those with malicious intent can wreak upon our lives, as they try to undermine our values and what we stand for. Sadly, I don’t believe that we have seen the last of this type of despicable activity but vigilance is our key strength and we must use it in full support of our security services.

Risky Business: Why the Great Repeal Bill spells uncertainty for the security industry

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.

Image

Any business needs certainty in the markets it operates in.  Indeed, one of the main responsibilities of Company Directors is to identify, assess and mitigate the external and internal risks to the business.  At the moment, those running manned guarding companies should be very concerned about the announcement of the Great Repeal Bill and the uncertainty it creates for our industry.

The Great Repeal Bill allows the Government to make an estimated 1,000 changes to European Union (EU) legislation, and is necessitated by the decision to leave the EU following the referendum in June 2016.  Importantly, the Bill will allow the Government to make these sweeping changes through ‘secondary legislation’ which largely avoids the direct scrutiny of Parliament. This will be achieved by invoking powerful, so-called ‘Henry VIII’ discretions, named after the Tudor King’s “Proclamation by the Crown Act of 1539”. A proclamation which I note, with some irony, helped to disentangle England from the continent at the time !!…

The Government claims these powers are required because a massive amount of legislation must be passed in a very short time.  This challenge is compounded by the fact that the precise terms of the UK’s deal with the EU will remain unknown by the time the Bill is introduced to Parliament later this year.  These practical considerations make the alternative – a slow and torturous progression of bills through Parliament over many years, in so doing making any deal with the EU difficult – simply impossible.

Firstly, in considering the Great Repeal Bill and what it might mean for the manned guarding industry, I ask that we put aside the Leave / Remain arguments about Brexit.  I have addressed the issue previously and it’s obvious that, whatever your side of the argument, Brexit is now going ahead. The best possible deal must now be sought for the UK and Europe, and this is in everyone’s interests.

An unstoppable force

The issue with the Great Repeal Bill is that, despite assurances that it will be used correctly, it hands considerable power to the Government.  As former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said last year:

“Unless strictly incidental to primary legislation, every Henry VIII clause, every vague skeleton bill, is a blow to the sovereignty of Parliament. And each one is a self-inflicted blow, each one boosting the power of the executive. Is that what we want?”

These ‘Henry VIII’ powers effectively eliminate the checks and balances that a bill’s usual passage through Parliament is subject to.  Indeed, as I understand it Parliament is effectively excluded from the legislative process, even though acts of Parliament themselves may be repealed under these clauses.  Noting the wide powers provided, the Select Committee on the Constitution’s comments in March 2017, point 3.1.3 of the Great Repeal Bill White Paper makes it clear that:

…The Committee also reflected that “it is unrealistic to assume that Parliament will be able to tightly limit the delegated powers granted under the Bill”, because to do so would unduly constrain the Government’s ability to adapt converted EU law to fit the UK’s post-exit circumstances.

What’s there to worry about, you may ask? These measures are needed given the huge demands placed on the Government by invoking Article 50 and setting a firm date for the UK to exit the EU.

Carte blanche for change

In principle, of course, the measure is fine.  As a mechanism to transfer any legislation into UK law the Bill is to be welcomed. And, as the White Paper on the Bill again makes clear:

The Government is mindful of the need to ensure that the right balance is struck between the need for scrutiny and the need for speed.”

Yet the devil is in the detail. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, recently told Sky News that there were areas of EU law that needed to be “put right”:

“We won’t want to change everything,” he said. “There are lots of parts of EU law that we approve of, that are good, but there will be some things we want to put right.”

Vague reassurances aside, the powers granted to the Government will allow it to amend legislation to suit its own political purpose.  Now, there is perhaps a perception that UK companies are constrained by red tape; a position I disagree with to an extent, as much of our red tape is most definitely UK-originated.  I’m not saying that there aren’t pieces of EU legislation that strike me as unnecessary – I have discussed the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme elsewhere, for example.

But the risk with the powers as granted is that they allow the Government to alter legislation according to its own political agenda: to satisfy the far right of its party, for example, which would no doubt welcome greater deregulation across the board.  An indicator of the pressure that the Government might find itself subjected is to be found in the question put to David Davis by Christchurch MP, Chris Chope, on 30th March:

Can I thank my right honourable friend for making it clear that two years from today our sovereign Parliament will indeed have the power to amend, repeal or improve all this ghastly EU legislation?”

Closer to home

What does this all mean for the security industry per se, though, I hear you ask? Well, as an industry employing well over 300,000 licensed individuals, we need to be making our voice heard in Government circles so we can make sure that any attempt to amend or revoke EU regulations as they pass across into UK law do not harm our industry.

Take TUPE, for example.  If the Government wiped it off the books the effects could be disastrous.  Every single company in our industry traditionally TUPEs staff from one contract to another at the end of a contract.  Removal of TUPE would give them a potentially massive redundancy liability at the end of each contract; one that they simply would not have allowed for.  This would have huge financial implications for those in our industry and other labour intensive industries such as cleaning and catering.

Ah, but “the Government won’t do that”, you may say.  If I were cynical by nature I might point out that the removal of TUPE would allow the Government to outsource many of its own, existing functions at lower cost. That this would be solely to the benefit of the Top 5 contractors for whom public sector tenders seem to consistently favour would simply add to my unease.

Never mind the industrial unrest and worry for workers created by an erosion of the rights that workers currently enjoy: we would return to the bad old days where any company that pays the lowest wages wins the contract.  As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady commented:

“The Government proposes handing the power to change important rights and protections at work that British workers already have to judges. This means that important rules to protect workers could be overturned, without the UK Parliament having any say. The protections affected could include your rights to full holiday pay, equal pay for women, stopping indirect discrimination because of your race or gender, and help for workers when they are outsourced to a new boss.

Speak now – or forever hold your peace

As an industry we are highly exposed to the risk of regulatory changes and the uncertainty created by the Bill should be a worry for us all.  On a practical level, Company Directors have a responsibility to manage and quantify risk – but we simply cannot quantify it at the moment.

What we can do, however, is take action to keep the Government informed about the dire consequences from any potential, regulatory ‘bonfire’.  Perhaps we should consider a joint initiative with other industries for whom the removal of legalisation like TUPE would be a disaster, namely catering and cleaning companies. Between us we must employ at least a million people in the UK and so should be listened to.

Indeed, joining up with others may make sense because, as it stands, our industry has no effective lobbying capability to speak of.  As such, we all need to “wake up and smell the coffee”.  It’s no good crying afterwards that we have millions of pounds of financial responsibility that was unaccounted for.  We must take action now!

 

 

 

 

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.

Image

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.

—-

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?

Chart

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.