The introduction of licensing within the private security industry will change the way in which FMs work with their providers, says the Security Industry Authority's John Saunders
10 February 2006
The increase in business crime and the recent terrorist atrocities have made us acutely aware of the risks we all face when going about our daily business. Security should be regarded as a fundamental part of the infrastructure, yet many businesses invest less in protecting their assets and their people than they spend on heating, air conditioning or even catering.
Furthermore, evidence suggests that the business world still tends to regard security as a grudge spend and opts to buy the very minimum and very cheapest service possible.
It's time businesses built upon the good practice of the few and sought a more mature and professional relationship with their security supplier.
The private security industry is undergoing phenomenal change and will continue to do so for the next five years. It will evolve from a low-margin, under-valued service sector to a more profitable, more professional and highly respected industry.
Huge investments are already raising standards by attracting high calibre staff, improved training and remuneration and increasingly sophisticated technology.
In the UK, the private and public sectors spend around £4 billion a year on private security. This has created an economically important and politically significant industry; one that employs up to 500,000 people. This is no small figure when you consider that there are only 140,000 police officers deployed in England and Wales.
In 2001, Parliament introduced the Private Security Industry Act and in 2003, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) was established as the regulatory body charged with raising standards within the private security industry. Its aim is to help to protect society by working in collaboration with the police, government, local authorities, industry and buyers of private security services to develop and attain high standards of professionalism and service throughout the industry.
On 20 March 2006, it will become a legal requirement to hold an SIA licence in order to work as a security operative, supplied under contract, for guarding, cash and valuables in transit, public space surveillance CCTV, close protection and key holding.
It is already a requirement for door supervisors and vehicle immobilisers operating on private land to hold an SIA licence. Licensing will help to ensure that those working within the industry are fit and proper persons. To qualify for a licence, front line security operatives will need to meet tough criteria. They will need to pass identity and criminality checks, and show evidence that their skills and knowledge meets nationally recognised, and independently assessed, vocational qualification levels.
Buyers of private security services have reacted positively to the introduction of licensing. In consultation they have made their needs crystal clear. They want higher standards of quality and service. They want access to security personnel who are more thoroughly trained. And they want to work with suppliers that have consistent contract standards with performance management and quality systems in place. Most accept that this will come at a price, but regard value for money to be more important than cost.
The cost for an individual's licence is £190, the additional training required varies for each security role, but the combined cost is typically in the region of £600. While the security licence is owned by the individual, it is highly likely that suppliers will meet these costs on behalf of their employees; an investment that will cost the industry in the region of £400 million. As a result, contract prices for security services are bound to rise, but so too will standards of professionalism.
The next step in the drive to create ever higher standards in the private security industry, is the introduction of the SIA Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) for supplying companies. This will provide purchasers with independent proof of accredited providers' commitment to quality throughout every key facet of their business.
While licensing is demanded by law, seeking accreditation to the ACS is a voluntary decision. It is also likely to be a commercial decision because, without doubt, the approved contractor accreditation mark will be widely regarded as a hallmark of quality. Standards and criteria for security suppliers to achieve ACS recognition will focus on a combination of internal management processes and key aspects of service delivery. Approved contractors will undergo annual reassessment by an independent assessor to ensure that they have maintained the required standards.
For buyers, the ACS should help to simplify the procurement process by providing a benchmark for the quality of business management and service delivery they can expect from an SIA approved contractor.
The next key date for licensing is 20
March, 2006. After that it will be illegal to work in a private security guarding role without an SIA licence. The best suppliers have planned ahead. They have supported their staff in obtaining their licence and are on schedule to meet an increased demand for licensed guards.
However, with just a few weeks to go before the deadline, less than 75 per cent of security guards still have not got their licence. Business managers would be wise to liaise with their security provider to ensure that they are on track with licensing and will be in a position to maintain continuity of service. The world of business is changing.
Corporate Britain faces an increase in business crime and a surge in threats and risks. The private security industry is stepping up to the challenge. Now it's up to corporate Britain to play its part. Business leaders and facilities managers must give security the attention and investment it demands. The transformation of the private security industry can only pay dividends if corporate Britain is prepared to recognise the investment that has been made to provide a more capable and professional security industry.
Ultimately, business will get the security industry it deserves. The early signals are encouraging. The introduction of the regulation carries the support of government, the police, the unions, the security industry and the public.
It is in everybody's interest that security services are bought "up to a quality", rather than "down to a price". That way, the only losers will be those behind business crime and, perhaps, the minority of senior executives who neglect to give security the attention that corporate governance and common sense demands.
John Saunders is chief executive of the Security Industry Authority
Case Study: Channel 4
Television broadcaster Channel 4 presents some interesting challenges for a security provider. These challenges relate to three key security issues and demonstrate how security solutions on the ground can be tailored to match very specific corporate needs - needs that are satisfied through a healthy, collaborative approach to security provision.
The first security issue is location. Although based in Westminster, London, Channel 4 is located in a predominantly residential area with no clear perimeter. It's quite close to Victoria station, government buildings and a number of prominent tourist destinations which inevitably leads to a high level of footfall in the area.
The second issue relates to a level of provocative television programming that often attracts protest groups and demonstrators. The Channel 4 image and programming aims to target diverse audiences which are representative of the UK's open, multicultural society. With respect to how demonstrations, visitors or even employee access are managed this presents a distinct challenge. Security personnel are required to manage risk levels and safety without conflicting with the brand's open image or invading a person's right to privacy or free speech.
For Channel 4, this can occasionally be difficult as risk often comes in unconventional forms. Protests may, for example, consist of 30 people opposing a programming decision about Star Trek to 300 people protesting editorial policy. There are also occasional visits to the studios by VIPs such as the Prime Minister or celebrities such as US rap star 50 Cent and his huge entourage. Security staff must be ready for anything.
Finally, there are a number of frequent events, each of which involves a plethora of contractors and production companies that support them. It all adds up to a complex mix of issues and challenges. "Over the last few years the entire ethos of Channel 4 security has undergone a positive development," explains Julie Kortens, head of facilities management at Channel 4. "This is evident in the changes in security equipment and procedure. Recent improvements have included full-height turnstiles, ID cards, increased expenditure on security equipment and a higher degree of training and awareness for staff. We aim to ensure that on the issue of security and safety, as with any other serious business issue, our house is very much in order. This is only achievable with both Wilson James [security provider] and Channel 4 working together."
One example of that collaboration is the modern approach to photographs on ID cards. Channel 4 wanted unique passes, reflecting the attitude and outlook of the channel. Wilson James was asked to develop something practical but stylish.
The solution allowed all employees to provide their own picture with a background of their choice. As a result, every pass became unique and individual without compromising its primary security function.
Wilson James is proud of its relationship with Channel 4 and considers itself the vanguard of security provision. "Historically, security has been a stop-gap job and there was definitely a 'Fred-in-a-shed' mentality," explains Andy Rallings, security manager for Wilson James at Channel 4. "That was damaging to the industry when it came to recruiting. The perception was that it is low-paid, easy going and there isn't much to do. Some companies believed, and continue to believe, that is the case. But today, the role of security personnel is changing."
The traditional approach to security was, according to Rallings, "to throw a load of people at it. The bigger the job, the more people you threw at it. But companies have altered that approach and now use technology to greater effect". Rallings believes that licensing for security operatives is a big opportunity for the industry, because it will drive out minimum-wage, untrained personnel: "Good companies will relish licensing. After all, if you are already paying your staff well and offering training, there won't be a problem."
For Channel 4, quality and know-how are important factors when it comes to security provision. Equally important is the company's standing within the industry, the profile of its clients and the ability of security personnel to integrate with the rest of the Channel 4 team. "The secret to a good working relationship between a quality security company and the client," adds Kortens, "is honesty, mutual respect and understanding of each others' needs".