We believe that the Government should let UK plc have a greater input into helping protect our Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). Protecting the UK’s CNI is “good business”: it is good for staff; it is good for customers; it is good for shareholders; and in the long run it is good for the UK. Critical infrastructure in the UK is largely owned and operated by the private sector: it is illogical that its future protection should be left entirely in the hands of the state.
With global security threats continuing to grow in today’s society the protection of Britain’s critical national infrastructure (CNI) is ever more important. Although terrorist attacks remain the issue which dominate the headlines there is a huge risk to industry if its efforts and expenditure decisions are dominated by terrorism alone. Companies need to consider a wider range of risks they may face, from natural disasters to the growth in more malicious activism. Companies need to start preparing now to effectively combat this growing spread of threats. Industry also needs to realise that Government will not always have the ability and the willingness to respond to protect it from these threats and support it when things go wrong. Emergency service provision, due to military overstretch and shrinking public sector resources, is already stretched too thinly as it is. So where can companies go to find additional resources which can not only protect assets but also help them assess the threats to which they are exposed? There is no credible choice but to involve the private sector, which already funds, builds and operates critical infrastructure from airports to power stations, more fully in its protection.
With the relaunch of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, due soon the Government needs to engage the private sector more fully in CNI protection as part of the UK’s National Security Strategy. It should take comfort from the success of Project Griffin, one of the earliest and most constructive engagements. So what should the Government do? To kick start the process it needs to force all relevant parts of the private sector to take protection of CNI more seriously by creating explicit obligations on owners and managers to protect their infrastructure, as it already does for those in the aviation or water industries. These obligations can be created either through legislation or through regulation. Government can also take a more pragmatic approach to using the private sector to operate, protect and provide surge capacity in the protection of CNI both at home and abroad; recent examples include the use of G4S Gurkha Services to protect the police operating base at Kingsnorth; or the use of its Policing Solutions business to provide instant access to around 10,000 former police officers to support major incidents.
Government should also think more creatively about using the private sector to support its intelligence networks. The private sector already provides a wide range of intelligence services in the UK and overseas from private investigation, due diligence and risk assessments to the electronic monitoring of offenders and those considered a threat to national security. We have the resources, experience and global networks which are equal to, if not more than equal, to those of Government so why not use them. This brings us to the obvious issue though – who is going to pay? The simple answer is that the user will pay whether it is: the consumer, through fuel surcharges or utility bills; the citizen, through national or local taxes; or companies themselves, as the airlines do to cover their statutory obligations to provide security at airports.
David Taylor-Smith is CEO of G4S Secure Solutions, the largest security company in the UK and Ireland with a turnover of more than £1 billion and 33,000 employees. More than 6,000 customers, including 50 FTSE 100 companies and the majority of UK Government departments, depend on G4S to provide them with a safe and secure way to deliver their services.