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.
First of all, I’d like to thank all of you who took the time to comment on my first blog. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and I’m delighted that it provided food for thought.
While most of the country is feeling the post-Olympic blues, the security sector was perhaps unique in experiencing the doldrums before a single race had been run. The fallout from the G4S problems is still very much with us and now we must turn our attention to repairing the industry’s damaged reputation.
There’s no denying that we must all learn some serious lessons from this unfortunate experience. However, I’m concerned – and even a little bit angry – about the kind of nonsense that is being spouted from senior government officials about using outsourced security in the public sector in future. Just two weeks ago the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said, ‘It does make you think again about the use of private companies in certain situations.’
The kind of ignorance shown in this comment does him, or us, no favours at all. This is a thriving business sector that employs over 380,000 professional licensed operatives, with tens of thousands of additional people employed in support, management, consulting, installation, technical and engineering roles – all contributing to a £5.3bn industry turnover.
The professionalism of this industry should not be in doubt and for the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, to state that ‘G4S were literally hiring people and expecting to deploy them three days later’ is beyond the pale. Had Mr Hammond done his homework and stuck to the facts, rather than simply constructing a media friendly soundbite, he would have known that this simply could not have happened.
For a start, the mandatory training required to obtain an SIA licence takes four days to complete. Since it first came into force in 2004 this licensing system has done a great deal to regulate who can and, just as importantly, who can’t, become a security operative. There are no shortcuts either and only SIA endorsed qualifications are valid for SIA licensing requirements.
This process also involves a stringent vetting procedure and every person has to undergo a full Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, with some having to obtain additional security clearances. Employers have to comply with BS 7858, which sets the standard for the security screening of staff and states that individuals must have five years of traceable employment history. Any gaps must be accounted for and those that cannot comply with this or any other requirement won’t be able to obtain a license.
Criticising the private security industry is not yet an Olympic sport but if it were, Messrs Hunt and Hammond would be favourites for gold. They have failed to recognise the excellent job that thousands of professional security operatives do every day in both the public and private sectors – regularly performing acts of heroism that fall under the radar. Although there was an understandable focus on the Olympic Park, much of the immediate vicinity, including the nearby Westfield shopping centre, was successfully guarded by private security firms without reported incident.
The suggestion that the G4S incident highlights the inability of private security firms to rise to the challenge of servicing major events smacks of desperation and is being used to distract attention away from the real issue, which is that of how security services are procured. Even now there are some public contracts on the horizon where the scale of the project is so large that it means that only one or two companies have the financial and physical resources to undertake the work. A system whereby one company is left to service a contract like London 2012 is flawed and I believe that a syndicated arrangement should be implemented for any similar event in the future.
While the troops that stepped in have, quite rightly, been praised for their actions over the last few weeks, to pitch the private and military models against each other, as Mr Hammond has seen fit to do, makes little sense. The lean management model suits the vast majority of clients’ circumstances and even though private guarding firms have been slammed for their supposed inability to provide a contingency plan, the simple fact is that they can but it comes at a cost – just as bringing in the military did.
When all is said and done, we still are left with the issue of what to do about the industry’s tarnished image. My suggestion is for private security companies to join forces and approach the issue in a co-ordinated way, by identifying the key messages that need to be communicated. This would be best served under the auspices of a trade body to spearhead an education and PR based campaign that would dispel any myths and highlight the professionalism that we know exists among us. What do you think?