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.
When news broke yesterday morning about an investigation by the BBC, which has uncovered that a large number of licensed security guards could be fraudulently working in the UK after buying Security Industry Authority (SIA) licences for cash, it was not the start to the working week that I had hoped for. If the allegations contained in the report are found to be true, the implications could be far-reaching and potentially devastating.
That some individuals and colleges are prepared to fraudulently sit exams or forge results in return for financial gain is shocking. It beggars belief that anyone who values the role security professionals play in protecting people, property and assets could sink so low as to jeopardise their safety.
Yet it seems that the problem could be widespread and the report heard from one former SIA employee, who claimed that a large number of colleges were involved in this activity. With the potential for a terrorist attack higher than ever, the fact that a researcher was able to fraudulently obtain an SIA licence and then received a job offer at a power station and an interview to guard Canary Wharf, will be ringing alarm bells amongst those procuring these types of services.
Along with all other security providers, we cannot know if the establishments in the report have certified any of Corps Security’s colleagues, as we do not receive their certificates, only their licences. The SIA receives confirmation of the examination certification as part of their work in approving licence applications.
The Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (OFQUAL) is responsible for regulating qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) regulating qualifications in Scotland. They appoint Awarding Organisations who develop qualifications and operate the examination system against the SIA specifications, there are 10 Awarding Organisations accredited at present. Most importantly they approve training and assessment centres, register candidates, provide evidence of their identity, award the qualification and input data into the SIA qualifications database. They must also provide quality assurance of the assessment and qualification process.
The training providers are responsible for delivering training courses that result in the qualifications required for an SIA licence. Significantly the training providers operate the examinations that lead to the qualification and this is where this latest scandal has emerged. Perhaps it would make sense for the examinations to be operated by the Awarding Organisations and not the training providers??
In reality the SIA is a long way from this scandal, but surely they have the responsibility for the overall quality assurance of the licensing process? This is a responsibility they have failed to execute in this case. The report highlights that the SIA has failed to fulfil its obligation to ensure the overall quality assurance of the licensing process. It has failed to be vigilant about the organisations it allows to conduct the training, assessment and certification of potential security personnel.
While deeply shocked, angry and disappointed that, once again, the security industry has been brought into disrepute by those working within it, I can’t help thinking that the proposed move to statutory licensing of private security businesses will only exacerbate rather than eradicate the problem.
It is claimed that business licensing and regulation will support those organisations that can demonstrate that they are ‘fit and proper’ to supply security industry services. However, if more of the vetting and approval work is passed to companies in the industry under business licensing, as opposed to being undertaken by the SIA, it stands to reason that we can expect even more corruption and fraudulent licence holders.
To qualify for an SIA business licence, an organisation must comply with issues surrounding identity, criminality, financial probity, integrity, and conformance with relevant British Standards. That’s all well and good if these organisations are all above board and 100 per cent legitimate. Back in the real world, the fact that business licensing will be largely self-regulating, with little in the way of an independent auditing procedure, opens the door to problems, and the government is simply deluding itself if it thinks otherwise.
The SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), which demonstrates that approved contractors are meeting the required standards each year, has far more compliance auditing than business licensing will.
Unfortunately, I can foresee the end of the ACS if business licensing comes into effect.
But if the SIA cannot get the licensing process right, what chance is there of successfully implementing business licensing when the dangers of rogue companies getting legitimate licences to trade are far greater?
And that’s not all. The report highlights that the SIA has failed to fulfil its obligation to ensure the overall quality assurance of the licensing process. It has failed to be vigilant about the organisations it allows to conduct the training, assessment and certification of potential security personnel. If the SIA cannot get this right, what chance has it got of successfully implementing business licensing when the dangers of rogue companies getting legitimate licences to trade are far greater?
In response to the findings of the BBC report, the SIA has stated that it takes allegations of training malpractice seriously. I am ultimately confident that the SIA will sort this out and eventually get it right as the current system is controllable. If some of these key responsibilities are left in the hands of ‘licenced security businesses’ there will certainly be unscrupulous licenced companies that will take advantage of the opportunity to employ people who have not been legitimately qualified to hold a licence.