Rog Hatlem, CEO of AOS writes his first of a new series of blogs exclusively for Infologue.com. Rog Writes: “In the current climate, cost appears to be the main focus when deciding on a security provider and indeed the price is the determining factor in total isolation of any other criteria such as quality.
“As CEO of AOS, a leading quality security company, and at the forefront of the sales process, I am frequently disappointed that winning a security contract appears to be connected to how low you can drop the price. In my opinion, this focus on price and price alone is extremely damaging to the security industry.
“Surely in today’s threat of terrorism the quality of a Security Officer and the service provision should have some impact on the decision making process when looking for a security provider. We all know that there is a baseline cost to put a well- trained, smartly presented, customer focus security officer on the ground, and if clients are insisting on the lowest price, then inevitably these fundamentals will be affected and in turn the quality of officer and service suffers, and ultimately the client suffers. Clients must not forget that an Officer on their premises represents their company and its reputation and a poor service with a high turnover staff brings all sorts of issues and worries for the client.
“I firmly believe that the impact of continuing procurement led decisions, without considering quality of service is now creating a downward spiral, which could ultimately destroy our industry. Security companies need to realise that by dropping their price just to get the contract and then placing an untrained officer, who cannot communicate well and is sloppily dressed will over time damage the security industry and under value the service we provide.
“I am delighted that AOS avoids taking part in the price game. We provide a value for money service – so do not expect the lowest bid from us. An example of where our quality service shines over price is in our recent award of the c2c rail contract. I was particularly delighted to win back this contract, as we had held the contract for a number of years and the loss of the contract in 2012 was a personal regret of mine. At that time, I knew that our service delivery was not in question, and that the loss of the contract was a direct result of cost saving measures by the client who placed all their services under one contract. I firmly believe that the one supplier route is not always the best solution for our clients and that an excellent service delivery is the key to success.
“I understand what it takes to build a high quality security service and I am prepared to walk away if someone expects us to drive the price down to the point when we compromise the AOS quality.
“I recall the inauguration of the SIA, which took place on 2 April 2003, when various speakers, such as Lord Falconer, Molly Meacher and John Saunders presented their vision of the future for the security industry. To my mind, the most inspirational speech was given by Thomas Berglund, the CEO of Securitas Services, who spoke of the need to provide a quality service and a job with pride and a future. In his opinion, wages were the main issue in the UK and he compared the UK with other countries in Europe where the security companies post licensing had taken a grip of the situation and improved wages and secured pension and health benefits for their Security Officers. This in turn, substantially improved service levels, made security officers more valued and reduced the high levels of staff turnover.
“Now, 10 years later, the UK Security Industry has done little to improve the earnings of security personnel largely because security providers have allowed, and some would say encouraged, margins to be reduced. Ironically, the Mayor of London has recognised the plight of the low wage earners and imposed the London Living Wage in order to protect them. Surely, this is a benchmark that could be achieved throughout the industry if its senior management concentrated more on improving the standards of their personnel, rather than undercutting their competitors.
“In the long term this state of affairs cannot continue because there are a number of threats on the horizon.
“Unfortunately the security industry still doesn’t have a very good image its employees being perceived as having low skills, poor pay and high staff turnover and it is this transient workforce that will become vulnerable when the economy improves. A lot of people who lost their jobs in the recession found employment in the Security Industry and although the pay was poorer at least they had work. The impact of Eastern European immigrants also increased the pool of security officers which meant that recruitment has not been too difficult in recent years. However the Government now seems confident that the economy is improving and we are already seeing the signs. The construction industry is on the move and it will not be long before those security officers who lost their jobs in that industry will return to a earn higher wages. Other low paid security officers will be looking for better paid work. Fewer immigrants will be available for work because of the restrictions put in place by the Government to reduce immigration and Ed Milliband has threatened to put an end to the derogation of labour loop hole. Part time students from abroad are under greater scrutiny and will no longer be available to fill the part time gaps. The Chancellor has also put those companies who pay minimum wage on notice that the next increase could bring the rate up to £7.
“Unless the industry pays attention to these threats it will have serious problems. It is essential therefore to change the image of the industry. The setting up of the SIA was the first step and compulsory training and licensing has already made a profound difference to the industry. The forthcoming licensing of companies will also improve standards. We can also thank the SIA for setting up the ACS accreditation scheme thereby creating a benchmark for improving standards. The scoring system promotes an incentive for companies to engage in continual improvement of its procedures, training and best practice initiatives. Sadly the main failing has been to improve the living standards of our officers on whom we rely to actually carry out our business.
“Until we embrace the notion that the Security Industry is a professional body of people who are seen to provide quality service by well trained and committed personnel, we will never improve our public image or our value to the procurement people.”
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