CoESS Manual “Buying Quality Private Security Services” – a personal view

David Dickinson
David Dickinson

David Dickinson, former British Security Industry Association Chief Executive, who led the security industry through the crucial regulatory transition phase from 2002 to 2006, has agreed to write a regular column for His first column gives a personal view on the Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS) Manual “Buying Quality Private Security Services”. David writes: “The first thing to say about this document is that it is timely, comprehensive- and welcome. It spans fifty six pages, has an excellent Executive Summary, and covers its subject in five clearly-defined chapters with a separate section for terminology and definitions. Whilst the authors clearly see their primary (or even only) audience for the Manual as procurement specialists – and mainly public sector procurement specialists at that – there is much else of worth within its pages.

“Very early in the executive summary, it touches on an issue which seems to me to be at the heart of the discussion on the purchasing of security services and, particularly, the deployment of personnel. Explaining that the sector is ‘very specific in nature’ they point to the mostly-overlooked fact that, today, as opposed to even ten or so years ago, the sector now has ‘a public order function’. By any measure, this is a major change of role, the more so because it has happened almost by default.

“In the nineties, the role of the private security contractor was basically to safeguard the assets and people of the client’s business. From two thousand onwards, the risk to businesses changed, not least because the potential risk of terrorist involvement also changed markedly. Where once the officer was hired to guard the gate, he or she could – just possibly –find themselves embroiled in a terrorist incident. Far fetched? Think of the part that our people played on 7/7 – and the bravery awards that followed! Even in the last few days the risks have become even more obvious.

“The implications of that one observation impact on many other parts of this Manual. For example, in some EU countries, the requirement for training of officers is much more comprehensive (and a great deal longer in time) than the UK and specific specialist training is required by law for ‘operational managerial staff influencing operations from supervisors to CEO’ in about half of EU member state. Perhaps the time has come, in view of the changed nature of the provision of services, and the consequent change in risk levels, for industry leaders to look again at operational management training – Skills for Security did some serious work on this some years ago -, and adopt the concept of ‘a career, not just a job’ for their people. There are shining examples of those who already attempt this, but, sadly, the level of training across the operational field is far, far less than the thirty eight residential courses provided when I joined Group4 in 1988! Just one more casualty of the ‘race to the bottom’ which the CoESS manual highlights, regrets and seeks to change.

“Leading on from the change in risk (and, therefore, role) is the much wider scope of duties and responsibilities now being contracted out to the private security sector. As long ago as 1990, at least two prominent members of ACPO, John (now Lord) Stevens and Keith (now Sir Keith) Povey both saw the need to improve the frosty level of relations between the police service and the private security industry for the benefit of both parties. To their credit, as they came to even greater prominence in the years that followed, they stayed true to their belief. It has been a long journey since then with many side turnings, but their vision, and the positive response of the industry and its’ various influential bodies, was responsible for the thaw that we see today. This willingness by the police service to at least acknowledge the role of support that the industry can provide and, in some cases, to actively co-operate, is another factor to be considered when defining the changing role of the private security provider and its people.

“It is very easy to blame the procurement specialists for promoting, or at least encouraging, the ‘race to the bottom’ and, whilst the buyer may appear to have all the power, the seller also has responsibility for ensuring that the service provided is fit for purpose. If buyers should read the Manual to understand the complex issues involved in specifying and evaluating the bids he or she receives, sales people will find that studying and applying the detail of the various mandatory provisions of EU regulations could pay real dividends in the preparation of tender bids

“Returning to the ‘fit for purpose’ discussion the ‘fitness’ will need to include the training and safety provisions for all staff and commensurate remuneration for the changed and changing role. The industry has many experts and, perhaps, the Security Institute even more. A thoughtful approach to quantify the breadth and extent of the changes (and potential changes) in the security officer’s role might be a starting point. From there, a new ‘service profile’ might emerge which would, at least provide a serious talking point in any tender negotiation. What a nineties colleague of mine once described as “warm bodies in navy anoraks” in describing a service he had encountered would not do then and certainly will not do now. The future belongs to those brave enough to make their case for true professionalism at all levels. Commodity purchasing only works when buying commodities!!

“In this changing security world, how can the Manual be of use to UK security providers? As I have already suggested, it could provide a ready and easily accessible point of information and reference for purchasers and providers alike. It can be used to stimulate an overdue discussion amongst all stakeholders – users, providers, the SIA, (especially the SIA!) the police service and academia. It can provide the opportunity for the industry to enter into direct discussions with Ministers – a process which provided real progress on several past occasions. Most of all, it can stimulate a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion of the question “What is the private security industry for”?

“Catherine Piara, the Interim Director General of CoESS, told me that In some Member States, the relevant national industry associations have already held, or intend to hold, nation-wide moderated seminars to make sure the messages in the Manual get across in a timely and knowledgeable way. Certainly, in 2002-2003, that approach to disseminating information about the reality and likely impact of statutory regulation paid real dividends. Handled skilfully and properly resourced, it could again!|”

Download the manual “Buying quality private security services” (PDF)

David is a security industry specialist managing a relatively orderly transition during the implementation of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 and established the BSIA as a trusted partner of the SIA. Introduced the ‘Safercash’ initiative (with the fullest cooperation of the CVIT industry) and changed perceptions of the nature of CVIT crime with both senior police officers and Home Office Ministers resulting in important changes in police response and support. David’s career highlights includes:

1988 – 2000   Director, Group 4 Total Security Ltd.  Initially as Sales and Marketing Director and then with additional responsibilities as media spokesman and with operational responsibility for special (ie ‘sensitive’ assignments such as  Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference (Edinburgh) European Summit (Cardiff) and GB Summit (Birmingham) and from 1996, the annual Labour Party Conference. From the same year, Full operational responsibility for all Immigration Service contracts

2000 – 2002 Director and General Manager of Immigration Services, Global Solutions Ltd (Group 4 subsidiary).

April 2002 – December 2008 Chief Executive of British Security Industry Association. Managed relationships with Government ministers, civil service, The SIA and the police service and provided expanded services to BSIA member companies.