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.
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.