Not only are Security Industry Authority (SIA) Approved Contractors meeting the required standard for approval each year, they are also implementing improvements within their organisations, with standards raised as a result, writes the Assistant Director of the SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme, Andrew Shephard, exclusively for;

“This week we released the latest Approved Contractor scores  achieved during ACS assessments. Every approved contractor receives a score each year that gives an indication of the extent to which the organisation has adopted good practice beyond that required by the ACS standard itself. This good practice is detailed in the ACS self-assessment workbook allowing contractors and assessors to determine a score based on the number of good practice elements in place.”

Continuous Improvement

“The new figures show, on average, a significant improvement by approved contractors over the course of the last 12 months. The median score for an ACS assessment during 2008-2009 was 18 whilst the median score for an ACS assessment during 2009-2010 was 30, an increase of 12 points. Continuous improvement is central to the Approved Contractor Scheme and is the reason why scoring forms a part of the assessment approach. Approved contractors may use their score to track and measure progress against the ACS standard and to see how they compare with others. Judgement is required on the part of an assessor when awarding an assessment score and therefore any comparison of scores requires caution.  We do not publish the scores of individual organisations but only we do publish ‘benchmarks’ derived from the scores achieved by all approved contractors.”

New Scoring

“Initially we grouped assessment scores into just four bands or quartiles. The 2009 ACS Review recommended further use of assessment scoring and we added a new band for the top 10% of scores. For 2010 we have included a top 5% band. Also this year we have introduced benchmarks for different sizes of organisation. Some smaller businesses with less than 250 licensable staff have recorded very high scores but larger companies, on average, achieve higher scores and the separate benchmarks now published allow different sizes of organisation a more meaningful comparison to help plan further improvement. Another new benchmark is improvement in assessment score. 10% of approved contractors, for example, have improved their score by at least 35 points over the past 12 months. Information on the new benchmarks and this year’s scores is available in the ACS Performance section on our website Organisations are of course free to decide how best to use their assessment score and the published benchmarks. Many, in line with the original aim, have targeted a year-on-year improvement. Others use their score to promote their approval and we are aware of security buyers who take the assessment score into account when making purchasing decisions. The ACS scoring system was not designed to be a marketing or differentiation tool. However, it can provide an indication of overall quality, provided that its limitations are understood. A high score may not mean that an approved contractor performs well in all areas; equally, some approved contractors may achieve a lower overall score but may perform exceptionally well in a particular aspect. Ultimately a lower score is still a good score, as it demonstrates that a business is meeting the ACS standard and following recognised industry good practice.

Raising Standards

“The Approved Contractor Scheme’s aim is to protect the public and to maintain and improve standards within the industry. Since the ACS was launched in March 2006, requirements in relation to 29 out of 89 indicators in the ACS workbook have been raised. New examples of good practice have also been added so that the maximum score that can be achieved has increased from 153 to 159. Some of the most significant changes have covered: sub-contracting only to other approved contractors; checking the right to work of employees; testing the effectiveness of security provision; conformance with relevant British Standard codes of practice; and compliance with Companies House rules. There have been number of other changes designed to contribute to the overall aim of raising standards. The 2010 ACS Annual Review is already underway. Initial soundings suggest finance and training are two areas where the ACS Standard could be enhanced. Consultation on these and other areas will take place over the next few months.”

Looking to the Future

“We will continue to refine and add to the information we provide. We don’t want to overload the industry with too many statistics, but it may be helpful to publish benchmarks in relation to specific areas such as employment practice. As another example we could look at areas where scores have stagnated and standards are not improving. Ideas are welcome! We will also continue to develop the consistency of scoring by different assessors. In February this year, every ACS assessor received two days of additional training, including a specific session on the approach to scoring. ACS Assessing Bodies are required to monitor scores and earlier this year we assigned two ACS team members to assist in the review of assessment reports. In our recent on-line survey of buyers of security services, 90% of respondents felt that entry requirements for the ACS were set at a level that was ‘about right’ for raising standards in the industry. The benchmark scores demonstrate that approved contractors are making efforts to improve, and we are determined to make full use of the opportunity the ACS provides to ensure that this trend continues.”