Home Opinion A Measure of Accountability

A Measure of Accountability

by Brian Sims
Peter Webster

Peter Webster

If any business sector wants to be taken seriously and not become commoditised, there’s a requirement to provide its customer base with a set of benchmarks by which ongoing effectiveness can be measured. Peter Webster outlines why the lack of independently collated, audited and analysed indices in the security sector must be addressed.

Unlike the situation pertaining within other business sectors – for example, retail – in the security world we have no clear indication of the ‘State of the Nation’ and any relevant trends that might be developing.

While this is unhelpful to service providers like ourselves, that status quo is even more of an issue for end users who may well be reviewing the options open to them within the security guarding market. A set of independently qualified statistics would afford customers a far better idea of performance standards such that more informed procurement decisions could then be made.

Gathering the data needed for such sector-wide indices will require the entire security guarding market to be ‘grown up’ and submit truthful information in the absolute knowledge that it will remain anonymous and only be published as part of a consolidated report. This is a tough ask, of course, but it’s an issue that simply must be addressed if we’re to be taken seriously as a business sector.

The Security Industry Authority’s (SIA) Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) audit scores – which independently demonstrate Approved Contractors’ performance against the required standards on an annual basis – could also be used as a benchmark data source.

At present, I’m not aware of any published summary report which analyses the consolidated data from ACS audits that could be used as important evidence of this business sector’s professionalism and high service levels. Come to think of it, I’m not even aware what percentage of the guarding sector or its constituent employees are presently represented by ACS companies.

Basic information on guarding sector employment trends can also be gained from the SIA. Anecdotally, I believe that, each year, the SIA issues new licence cards equivalent to around 20% of the total licenses in circulation, although the overall number of licence cards in use remains roughly the same. This would appear to indicate that a significant percentage of licence holders choose to leave the guarding world each year. If this is true, it brings to the fore the question of how we can retain staff and make the sector a more attractive one in which to build a longer term career.

These are the problems, then, but why is nothing being done to address them? This is something about which I would welcome your views because I’ve yet to hear a good reason for not publishing industry statistics.

How about standardising KPIs?

At Corps Security, as part of our Customer Charter which is designed to ensure that our Service Level Agreements are met, we’ve developed a system to define a series of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that provide a comprehensive set of quantitative and qualitative data. This helps drive service improvement. Data is formatted and presented in a manner reflecting a customer’s business and affords them the information they require.

I’m sure that most reliable solutions providers do the same, but why don’t we consider standardising these KPIs to make it easier for clients to understand the comparative performance of their security suppliers?

My opinions on this subject have been formed through my own experiences as a former chairman of the Cleaning and Support Services Association and president of the Textile Services Association. During my tenures with these industry trade bodies, I helped introduce a measurement system of cost indices that included all of the published – and, therefore, evidenced in the public domain – cost factors associated with running a business in those respective worlds.

Every year, a report would indicate how much industry operating costs had risen, so when we asked customers for a price increase we could use clear, meaningful and independently benchmarked figures to back up our case. This helped to maintain margins and facilitated continued investment into service improvement, not to mention the ongoing development of what every business needs – skilled and trained personnel.

This leads me towards my final point on this particular matter. Regular readers of Security’s VERTEX Voice in Risk UK will recognise that I see the need to increase the professionalism of the security sector as being one of the biggest challenges we face. Independent, performance-based statistics would go a long way towards demonstrating that, in the majority of cases, contracts are fulfilled and customers fully satisfied with their security guarding services.
It’s very much the case that truthful and accurate data can help improve performance, perception and professionalism.

A solid set of statistics would help lend more credibility to what it is we do as a market sector and also assist in restoring confidence in our overall competency.

In the line of duty

In late June, the tragic news that a serving officer of ten years-plus had passed away after being attacked outside Blackfriars Crown Court in central London was met with great sadness at the headquarters of Corps Security.

Lorraine Barwell, a 54-year old custody officer employed by Serco, was assaulted at lunchtime on Monday 29 June while attempting to escort a prisoner between the Crown Court itself and a waiting prison vehicle.

It’s understood that Barwell and other members of the Serco team on duty were preparing to escort the prisoner to a van parked inside the courtyard when the attack occurred.

Apparently, the nature of the attack was so severe that London Air Ambulance was called to treat Barwell at the scene. The officer was then flown to an East London hospital in a critical condition. On Friday 3 July, a statement issued by New Scotland Yard outlined that the custody officer had died of her injuries.

According to BBC Home Affairs correspondent Danny Shaw, the Ministry of Justice and Serco believe that Barwell is the first prisoner custody officer to have died in the line of duty.

Gary Broad, Corps Security’s major accounts director, has written a wonderful tribute to Lorraine and I would like to share it with you by way of providing some food for thought.

“The death of Lorraine Barwell has shocked us all and offers a timely reminder of the vulnerability of each and every person involved within the wider ‘Contract Security Family’. Unfortunately, it’s only following on from such an extremely sad incident that we’re able to extend the genuine concern each of us feels for our own employees and for those who also serve but in uniforms of a different hue and behind a badge of different design.

“For those of us who eat, sleep and breathe security on a daily basis, it’s unfortunate that the sad news of such a terrible loss can sometimes be tinged with a feeling of inevitability. There’s a knowledge that, despite all of our best efforts to mitigate such terrible occurrences and protect our colleagues to the fullest, the potential for violent attack always lurks just below the surface for many – if not most – of our front line personnel.”

Recognition for the role

“How little do those that we strive to protect on a daily basis understand about the risks our colleagues take on their behalf? How little do they appreciate how much ‘Simply being of service’ means to the majority of contract security personnel (be they involved in security guarding, cash collection, prisoner escort or any other protective service)?

“I’m sure others within our sector share the uncomfortable feeling that I bear when hearing our colleagues referred to in negative terms by individuals who have neither the aptitude, ability nor courage to undertake the tasks that our staff complete each and every day and who probably wouldn’t climb out of bed in the morning for a salary double that which is presently available to our people.”

The commitment of private sector security personnel to their role often places them at risk of physical assault and yet, collectively, it’s fair to say that the major contribution our industry colleagues make to keeping people and property safe isn’t always properly recognised.

Our thoughts, prayers and most sincere condolences are very much with the family, friends and colleagues of Lorraine Barwell.

Peter Webster is CEO of Corps Security

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