This is the eleventh instalment in a series of articles for the readers of Risk Xtra where we shine the spotlight on NSI-approved businesses for the benefit of risk and security managers who purchase security guarding as well as systems-focused solutions. Answering our questions this time around is Peter Harrison, managing director of FGH Security.
Risk Xtra: Can you briefly describe your business’ activities and what you consider to be your USP as an organisation?
Peter Harrison: Since the inception of FGH Security back in 2003, we’ve worked across most sectors. At one point, we oversaw 400 key holding contracts, presided over our own NSI-approved Alarm Receiving Centre and operated in the spheres of car park management, mobile patrols and alarm and CCTV installation and maintenance. In 2010, the business made a strategic shift and divested much of this work to concentrate on security guarding, event security and door supervision.
Then, in 2016, we conducted another review. Today, the business specialises in the provision of security guarding where people are the main asset. Our company’s purpose is ‘Keeping People Safe’. Customer service and hospitality training are generally key to success here. This means that we’re carrying out less and less of the typical static guarding contracts and focusing more on concierge work.
The real growth area for us is crowd management and event security in which we continue to excel. This is all about complex tasks needing lots of customer care, design and processes. Although we work in door supervision, we generally only operate in the higher quartile of the industry at Student Unions, live music venues and for premium bars and high-end nightclubs.
It’s difficult for companies to differentiate themselves in the security guarding market. Ultimately, each business is only as good as its weakest team member. We recognise this quite brutal fact and confront it head on. We invest a good deal of resource into recruitment, training and continually supporting our team members.
Risk Xtra: What do your clients value most about the services you deliver?
Peter Harrison: FGH Security’s company ethos is what really makes the business unique. The company is continually focused on three vital areas, namely looking after the team, giving something back and operating under the maxim ‘Be Great Today, Be Better Tomorrow’.
From a customer point of view, and as part of any sales process, we have three ‘brand promises’ that we make to our clients and which they value greatly. First, we provide ‘The Friendliest Team’. We also commit to delivering ‘The Best Trained Team’. Last, but not least, we adopt a scientific approach to what it is we do.
At FGH Security, these areas of focus and deliverables for the client are not just words. Rather, they make up the very DNA of our organisation. They’re part of our recruitment process, our appraisal process and our training process and emblazoned on the walls of our offices. They drive every commercial, strategic and operational decision.
Risk Xtra: How do you feel accreditations have assisted your company?
Peter Harrison: Accreditations have been great for our business. We were the ninth company in the UK to gain Security Industry Authority (SIA) Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) status back in 2006, for example, and have always been an advocate of regulation and licensing.
Most accreditations serve as a guide to us. Essentially, they can be viewed as an ‘Instruction Manual’ on how to organise the company. As we’ve matured as a business down the years, however, it’s fair to say that there has been slightly less emphasis placed on security industry accreditations.
We don’t use accreditations to compare or benchmark ourselves against other security businesses. Instead, we look at great companies from other industries right around the world and determine to learn from them.
Risk Xtra: Specifically, what value does ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval bring to your business and its clients?
Peter Harrison: We believe that the ACS is a good standard. We constantly score well inside the Top 5 percentiles. From a business perspective, I would like to see the buyers of guarding services use these scores as part of their tender processes.
The value of being able to deploy someone on a Licence Dispensation Notice is enough to make the ACS pay for us. It’s good to see the scheme being reviewed again. We feel that the basic pass mark needs to be higher.
The ACS receives a good deal of criticism, but I think the industry is a far better place for it. Sometimes, security companies just expect too much from the standard. For their part, buyers need to know what to expect from the ACS. Just because a company holds ACS registration doesn’t mean the service provided for its clients will be ‘all singing, all dancing’.
For us, NSI Guarding Gold goes a step further. We go through the passport scheme which essentially means that we’re audited against the ACS at the same time as being audited against the relevant British Standards.
With my ‘company owner’ hat on, I feel that the NSI affords me welcome peace of mind when it comes to knowing that we comply with the standards accordingly. During any potential claim, the first thing our insurers will ask for is a screening file for the individual(s) involved, and we cannot afford for these files to be anything less than perfect.
Risk Xtra: In practice, what are the main differences between ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval?
Peter Harrison: The ACS is something of an entry-level accreditation. In my opinion it should be mandatory. The biggest mistake made as part of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 was not starting at the top of the pyramid and licensing 2,000 companies. Instead, the focus was all about personnel on an individual level.
The ACS is generally a prerequisite to any public sector work, and rightly so, but the difference in quality between the bottom and the top of the tree is, in my opinion, vast. I don’t feel a buyer can guarantee any high level of quality from the ACS. It’s an absolute minimum quality standard. If companies cannot gain this accreditation and maintain it, then they don’t deserve to be in our industry. It’s as simple as that. The ACS, I would respectfully suggest, is the private security industry’s equivalent of a Grade C GCSE.
NSI Gold is a true quality mark. It goes a few steps beyond the ACS. You’re not going to attain and maintain NSI Gold standards without knowing the industry well and having some degree of passion about quality. Once you attain the standard, it then encourages you to learn from your mistakes and determine to improve further. It’s the industry’s equivalent of a 2:1 Honours degree at a good university. The NSI’s assessors are knowledgeable and really care about not just security, but also quality and the industry’s wider reputation.
I still feel that the NSI could go a step higher, though. NSI Platinum would be like NSI Gold, but without pre-arranged audits. An assessment without notice at any office or site on a date of the NSI’s choosing. That would be the real ‘Michelin Star’ of the security industry and a standard worth boasting about. Security’s equivalent of a decent Master’s degree or PhD, if you like.
Risk Xtra: How do you feel technology has changed the industry over the last couple of years and what do you believe will be the direction of travel in the future?
Peter Harrison: Going forward, we should expect to be seeing more and more automation in the back office environment. We’ve managed to automate a great many of our own back office functions, such as portals for the team, rosters, payroll, invoicing, training and SIA licence checking. In the main, this move has arisen as a direct result of our continual focus on ‘Lean’.
Indeed, the biggest tip I could give any security company is to become fanatical about ‘Lean’ processes and customer value. There have been some fantastic savings that allow us to invest even more into our team, our Corporate Social Responsibility agenda and several good causes.
On the operational front, the cost of labour will continue to increase way beyond inflation, whereas the cost of electronic devices will continue to fall. The technology available to security companies keeps on improving, but there are limitations specifically centred around keeping people safe and not just looking after the assets. In this area, I feel that ‘tech’ is just another ‘tool’ of the job. Ultimately, it’s never going to be a replacement for a well-trained security officer who both values and cares deeply about his or her role.
Risk Xtra: When it comes to negotiating contracts and responding to tender requests, what aspects are of most value to customers and how are these changing?
Peter Harrison: This will vary depending upon the sector and the industry. Generally, public sector guarding contract buyers just care about saving money, and that all drills down to the Government deficit. Recently, though, we’ve seen some slight shifts in tender weightings, with a higher emphasis being placed on quality and less on price. Many buyers have ‘gone cheap’ and had their fingers burned.
At FGH Security, there’s a lot of value placed on relationships. We have held on to lots of our customers for over a decade. Many have become good friends and we’ve built up exceptionally high levels of understanding and trust. Once in a blue moon a customer thinks the grass is greener, but we leave the door open and, generally, they come back to us.
We’re still operating on a mainly regional scale, and if any of our customers ever want to see me in person as the managing director and company owner they can call me at 8.00 am and I’ll be with them for 10.00 am at the latest. Not that this is ever really needed as our support team is fantastic and genuinely cares, but the customers know the facility is there.
Returning to your core question, as stated we’ve focused slightly less of late on the industry side of accreditation and more on the wider market side of the process. We’re a Sabre employer with a Silver Award. We offset our carbon with The Woodland Trust. We take part in the Best Companies competition (ie The Times ‘Top 100 Employers’) and we’re just starting out on a journey to become accredited with the Mind Well-Being Index this year.
I would encourage other security companies to enter the Best Companies competition. It questions your team members directly, removing you from the equation so there’s nowhere to hide. It would be great to see more of the industry involved here. Security businesses should stop telling everyone they’re great employers and put their money where their mouth is. The entry level cost is around £1,000. Little more, in fact, than it costs for an internal survey.
Risk Xtra: How has Government legislation (eg the National Minimum Wage, the National Living Wage and changes to holiday pay) affected your business? Do you believe such legislation is a good thing?
Peter Harrison: I do feel that, within our industry, the National Living Wage is a good thing. We need to go further still as our people deserve more.
FGH Security has signed the Real Living Wage pledge and we’re recognised as a Real Living Wage Service Provider. This means that we pay all of our in-house positions at least £8.75 per hour. We also push the Living Wage Foundation’s agenda on to our customers. Almost all of them have taken us up on this, with only a handful of the more typical security guarding or public sector guarding contracts declining to do so. These are the sites where we see more HR issues and, if I’m honest, it’s here where it’s sometimes more difficult to fill positions for contracts.
By 2020, I would like to think we’ll be close enough to the 100% mark to be able to give remaining clients an ultimatum: pay the rate that’s required for the job or find another security supplier.
Risk Xtra: What are the most important attributes you look for in your security officers and staff members in general?
Peter Harrison: Our members of staff must fit our values. This means smiling and caring about protecting people. Intelligence and a willingness to continually learn go a long way.
We’re lucky that our two main offices are surrounded by universities, so we employ a lot of undergraduate and post-graduate students. They really help us to shape our organisation and it gives us a good pool to choose from when vacancies in the support team do arise.
Risk Xtra: How can the SIA, the NSI and industry standards best serve the sector in addition to the needs of your company’s clients and the wider public interest? Will the planned introduction of business licensing be a positive step?
Peter Harrison: Generally, we need to keep driving standards in the security business sector higher and higher. You cannot put a price on security and safety where the lives of citizens are concerned. In terms of looking after a building or other asset, this maxim is still key, but perhaps less important.
Business licensing would be an incredibly positive step, and especially so within the door supervision and event security markets. There are still companies in operation here employing people who simply don’t care about our industry or the individuals and businesses whom it serves. That’s not acceptable.
Time in security business sector
18 years operating in the security business sector following over five years’ service as a Royal Marines Commando
Location of the business
Headquartered at Alston House in White Cross, Lancaster with satellite offices in Manchester
Areas of expertise
Security guarding, event security and crowd management and door supervision
NSI Guarding Gold (ISO 9001, BS 7499, BS 7858 and BS 7960), SIA ACS (Security Guarding and Door Supervision), ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems, ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems, Signatory to the Armed Forces Covenant
About the National Security Inspectorate
The National Security Inspectorate (NSI) is a wholly-independent, not-for-profit company limited by guarantee and operates as a UKAS-accredited certification body specialising in the security and fire safety sectors.
For over 40 years, the NSI has served to protect businesses, homeowners and the general public alike, raising standards by providing robust and high quality audits of both security and fire safety service providers.