As the key driver behind regulation in the private security sector, and with its new licensing system now up-and-running, the Security Industry Authority is presently under the spotlight like never before. Peter Webster recently met with Alan Clamp, the SIA’s CEO, to discuss in detail some of the major issues of the day and the direction in which the industry is heading.
First impressions count and Alan Clamp, the man in charge of the Security Industry Authority (SIA), cuts an impressive figure. As someone who has put forward his opinions of the Regulator on many occasions, I welcomed the invitation to meet him and discuss a range of subjects currently affecting the security industry. Throughout the course of our candid and, at times, often vigorous debate, the SIA’s CEO remained both open minded and genuinely interested. Just as importantly, this is an individual with a clear grasp of the challenges faced by the SIA.
The first topic that I wanted to address concerns the ongoing problems associated with the SIA’s new licensing system, which was finally launched on Wednesday 6 July last year. Although it promised to allow individuals to register for accounts and apply for or renew their SIA licences online, change their personal details remotely and consent to link to their employer (who could assist with the application process), to say the new system hasn’t quite lived up to expectations would be something of an understatement.
Alan Clamp acknowledged that this situation has been unacceptable and, without making excuses, offered assurances that the issues are being dealt with. Although the system now works well in simple cases, queries submitted via an individual’s account still seem to be addressed more quickly than those submitted via a business. This has created a huge logistical and operational burden for security companies. The general consensus of opinion appears to be that the time taken to resolve simple issues is too long.
The conversation then turned to a particular bugbear of mine – the proposed introduction of the statutory licensing of private security businesses. Despite the fact that huge amounts of administrative duplication and expense would be required to implement business licensing, some of those in the industry – including the SIA – still see it as the way forward. I suggested that the SIA’s claim to want a ‘private security industry so committed to improving standards and protecting the public that it needs minimal regulation’ cannot be reconciled with its support of business licensing, but it was hard to gauge Alan Clamp’s thoughts on this particular matter.
The SIA has claimed that business licensing would afford enterprises more responsibility for the individuals that they employ, and achieve a reduction in the regulatory cost and burden on the private security industry as a whole. Having crunched the numbers, we estimate that business licensing would cost Corps Security around £50,000 per annum, and with no indication of the corresponding reduction in the individual licensing costs.
For those companies that don’t currently pay their employees’ SIA licence fees, the costs will come as a huge shock, with the additional bureaucracy, time, inconvenience and uncertainty an expense that would probably be difficult to pass on to customers.
A better way
Despite all sorts of desperate attempts by the pro-business licensing brigade to find reasons for implementing it, I remain unconvinced and spelled out exactly why to the SIA’s CEO.
My argument centres on the view that the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) already raises performance standards and assists the private security industry in developing new opportunities, albeit with lots of room for improvement in scope and effectiveness.
I was pleased that Alan Clamp was receptive to the idea that the ACS could be an excellent basis for an initiative that could help to raise industry standards. I suggested that, in order to drive Best Practice, encourage companies to gain more ACS points and improve levels of service, a tiered system should be employed. The SIA could then publish details of the different companies within each tier rather than their individual scores. It could be as simple as having Bronze, Silver and Gold designations and would offer competitive advantage, drive up standards and afford end user service buyers a better idea of what to look for in a solution provider.
In addition, I suggested that the SIA should be doing more to raise awareness of the ACS among end users and turn it into a real quality mark. This would enable those end users to gain an insight into whether a security services provider merely meets the basic criteria for approval or exceeds it.
Although all participating companies understand the points system and what has to be proven to achieve each point, there are still many improvements required to the system itself, not to mention the auditing process.
With what I would tacitly consider consensus, I was then thrown something that in common parlance is referred to as a ‘curveball’. The SIA’s CEO asked me how I would feel if business licensing was made a first step on the ACS ladder. Given that this would avoid duplication and negate the additional administrative and financial burden of business licensing, I have to say that the idea struck me as sensible, workable and potentially beneficial. It’s definitely something worth exploring.
Security’s image problem
Our conversation soon evolved into a discussion about raising the overall perception, status and professionalism of the security industry. This is one of the biggest challenges we face. Although the industry’s image has significantly improved since the SIA’s individual licensing system came into force, regulating who can – and, just as importantly, who cannot – become a security operative, there’s clearly much more work to be done.
At this point, Alan Clamp voiced his concern that there should be clear demarcation between what a Regulator like the SIA does and the role of a trade body. I replied that there’s a need for clarity from the SIA on the level and type of regulation it believes is required. I went on to state my belief that we do indeed need a vocal, vociferous and dynamic Trade Association, especially so for the security guarding sector, in order to deal with the issues beyond the SIA’s remit. This is something that, in my view, we’re sadly lacking at the moment.
We did agree that a thriving business sector employing an estimated 350,000 professional and licensed operatives, with tens of thousands of additional people engaged in support, management, consulting, installation, technical and engineering roles, deserves more respect among wider society. The negative perception of private security, often fuelled by national media coverage, harms the whole industry.
This respect must be earned, though, and, returning briefly to the ACS, some form of independently verified performance-based accreditation would go a long way in demonstrating to both existing and potential customers alike that, in the majority of cases, contracts are fulfilled and customers satisfied with their services. It would lend credibility to what we, as an industry, do on a daily basis.
The personal touch
The success, perception and reputation of the security guarding sector is inextricably linked with the people working in it. We discussed how pricing pressures are the result of attempts to turn security guarding into a commodity purchase as well as the security sector’s own inability to demonstrate the value it brings and the important role it plays.
As an industry, we struggle to attract high quality individuals to perform roles that are fundamental in terms of keeping people, property and assets safe. We agreed that this was, in part, down to the low rates of pay that operatives receive for the work they transact.
The impact of the National Living Wage is being felt with differentials being eroded. Alan Clamp and I exchanged a number of opinions on this matter. For my part, I explained why employers should pay the rates defined by the Living Wage Foundation’s (LWF) Living Wage wherever and whenever possible. Although its supporters will claim that the National Living Wage reduces poverty and increases productivity among businesses, the LWF Living Wage could do so much more.
We certainly need to compete head on with other industries in order to be considered an attractive career choice. It was refreshing to hear the Regulator’s CEO acknowledge the fine work that some specialist security services providers are doing in terms of training and career development progression. He shares my own view that, if things are to really change in this respect, we’ll need to raise the profile of the industry at a macro level.
The task ahead of the SIA shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s up to the security industry as a whole to question and hold our regulatory body to account. That said, we must also work together. Alan Clamp’s willingness to engage in debate and discussion should be welcomed and, more importantly, built upon.
Peter Webster is CEO of Corps Security