In conversation with Patrick Mercer MP – part two

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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My last blog featured the first part of my interview with Patrick Mercer MP, where we discussed a range of issues related to security. As promised, here’s the second part of our conversation.

PW: At Corps Security we place great emphasis on identifying the real threats that organisations face, and our clients are often surprised by the type, number and changing nature of these threats. Some of the most ‘mundane’ threats, such as cable theft, can actually prove very costly for organisations and can cause massive disruption. Do you believe sufficient attention is paid to keeping our national infrastructure safe and operational?

Patrick Mercer, MPPM: There are a multitude of different threats to our national infrastructure and while terrorism tends to grab the headlines, acts such as the theft of copper cables are causing major headaches for the rail network. However, we must be mindful that our broader physical infrastructure can also be adversely affected by natural events, such as extreme weather conditions.

Also, the threat posed by cyber-crime is potentially enormous. Individuals from all parts of society with malicious intent – irrespective of age, race and location – can cause havoc.

Regardless of the type of threat, it is important that we identify and anticipate any potential weak spots. There are crucial elements of our national infrastructure that have to be better protected and maintained – and this is where organisations like Corps Security play a key role.

PW: As you know, Corps Security started life as The Corps of Commissionaires, a company founded in 1859 by Captain Sir Edward Walter KCB to provide jobs for ex-servicemen returning from the Crimean War. We are proud of our military origins and we have close connections with the services to this day – the values that we believe in are as relevant today as they were 150 years ago and our clients like this. What strengths and skills do you believe ex-servicemen and women returning from Afghanistan bring to the jobs market and the security industry in particular?

PM: I can sum up many of my views on this subject by giving an account of a recent experience. Last Friday I had three meetings where the key players were all ‘civilians’ – none were ex-military. The first person turned up an hour late, the second an hour and a half, and the third arrived forty-five minutes behind schedule. While at the very least I consider this poor business practice, what also baffled me was the lack of preparation that they had given to the matters to be discussed.

Obviously, not all those without a military background are guilty of shoddy timekeeping and disorganisation! That said, in my experience those that have are always punctual, well prepared and very well informed about a variety of subjects. What’s more, they use the type of unambiguous language that means that you are left in very little doubt about the point they wish to make and their intention. These are important attributes in any walk of life and I think they should be more widely adopted.

However, all the positive strengths that ex-servicemen and women have do, of course, carry other more negative burdens and those returning from theatre of war must be fully supported. Experiencing unpleasant things at close quarters leaves scars and those coming out of the armed forces should be given the necessary support to help to relieve the impact of these experiences. When it comes to the working environment, these individuals should be managed appropriately.

While I firmly believe that companies should recognise the skills sets that ex-service people possess, businesses also need to value the drive and commitment that these people can offer. Corps Security is an exemplar of how this should be done by providing a structured working environment that recognises the pressures that ex-servicemen and women are susceptible to.

PW: Finally, my first blog concerned the fiasco around London 2012 security and I asked how we could repair the industry’s tarnished image. Do you think the industry has been affected and, if so, what does it need to do to enhance its reputation?

PM: I don’t think that the industry as a whole has been damaged, the company at the centre of the controversy certainly has been. I have no axe to grind as far as G4S is concerned and happen to know from meeting some of its senior employees that there are some extremely competent people working for the company. However, they got the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games very wrong.

Every company in this sector should learn from the mistakes of the past and do all they can to ensure that their customers experience a high quality service. This involves executing contracts with the utmost professionalism – something that I’m well has seen much progress in recent years.

As a result of The Private Security Industry Act 2001 customers have become comfortable with the fact that individuals have to be licensed by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) – a situation that has improved the image of the sector in areas such as door supervision. In my view initiatives such as the Chartered Security Professional designation will promote the security sector to a wider audience and will, in turn, pay huge dividends for the industry as a whole.


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