A much heralded step improvement for the guarding industry was to be the introduction of the ACS.  Much hope was placed by many on what the ACS might achieve.  There is no doubt that the ACS has contributed to raising standards and I expect most would acknowledge that many of the smaller companies have raised their game a notch or two to meet the ACS criteria. 

However, an unintended consequence of the ACS is that it has made it even easier than before for the end-user to purchase security on price alone. The customer may, quite reasonably, think that all ACS companies are the same and thus the only determinant is cost.  In this regard the ACS has not delivered what many in the industry hoped for. Some argue that the scores achieved during the ACS assessment should be published to provide that important differentiator between approved companies.  At first glance this might provide the answer, but there are two serious issues with such an approach. 

The first is that scores, as a comparator on their own, are pretty close to meaningless. For example, a company might score very highly on CSR issues and other non-output related criteria compared to another company that focuses on a quality offering to its customer. The scoring issue is further compounded by inconsistency amongst the Assessing Bodies, with some guarding companies selecting their Assessing Body based on the belief that they will achieve a higher score from a less than rigorous audit. 

The second significant issue is that introducing differentiation into the ACS goes beyond the remit of the Government’s Better Regulation and Hampton principles.  No other Government regulated industry has the Government applying degrees of compliance and providing a marketing tool for regulated companies.

So what is to be done?   If introducing effective differentiation into the ACS is not possible then the answer must lie in the hands of the industry.  I suggest that a fresh approach is required. What is needed is a new “self-regulated” assessment scheme that provides a true measure of the competency of a security guarding company, one that provides a meaningful comparator to the end-user.  Such an approach needs to be built on consensus; one built between BSIA, NSI and Skills for Security. Such a scheme would allow security managers to place in front of their Board the difference that quality brings and the benefits of specifying a quality company, even though it costs more than “Arthur Daley Guards Inc”.

Many buyers of security say that the guarding Industry provides its own worst enemies.  I have some sympathy with this view.  I also believe it will not change until the industry, through the BSIA, is prepared to work together with NSI and Skills for Security in devising an accepted scheme that offers differentiation.  This will allow those who wish to offer the best possible solutions a way of demonstrating that they do indeed deliver what they claim. With the realisation that the ACS will not provide a meaningful level of differentiation now is the time to work together on building a viable and accepted alternative.