Peter Webster – Has common sense prevailed about business licensing?

Peter Webster – Chief Executive of Corps Security

Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, a regular blogger, discusses business licensing in his latest blog. He writes: “Over the last month or so, I’ve been carefully studying the Security Industry Authority’s (SIA) Draft Corporate Plan, incorporating its Strategic Plan 2016-19 and Business Plan 2016-17. It’s under consultation until the 11th March and views are currently being sought on the proposals, so that next phase of the SIA’s work reflects the opinions and priorities of those who buy, supply or rely on private security.

“There are some noble objectives outlined and my overall backing of the SIA was reaffirmed, however, I was particularly keen to scratch the surface and find out what it plans to do with regards to business licensing – an idea that regular readers of my blogs will know I don’t support. In fact I’ve spend much of the time since 30th June 2014, when Lord Taylor stated that the government expects the introduction of the statutory licensing of private security businesses, fervently giving the reasons why the whole concept is flawed and why, in the absence of any hard facts, our industry representatives should not be giving any support to these ‘half-baked’ and poorly communicated proposals.

“As an aside, I recently took the opportunity to ‘lobby’ (her words – not mine!) the Home Secretary, The Rt. Hon Theresa May MP, at a social event. She was amused that the subject had come up in such surroundings…

“The SIA’s last desperate attempt to sway thinking in favour of business licensing focused upon the false notion that it would help eradicate the number of criminal gangs running security contracts. Then there’s the additional bureaucracy, time, inconvenience and uncertainty it would cause, including the requirement for companies to provide a yearly return evidencing continued compliance and pay an annual subscription fee. Not surprisingly, these elements of the plan have been somewhat downplayed.

“It was claimed at the time that there was industry support for business licensing, but how could there be when so much about the proposal is unclear? While a rough indication of the likely cost of a business licence was provided, nothing was revealed about the reduced cost of an individual licence, while an estimate of the costs of the administrative burden to companies was also absent.

“So, bracing myself for further lobbying on the issue, imagine my surprise when having reached the end of page 19 of the document I hadn’t come across one solitary mention of business licensing. To be perfectly honest I didn’t know what to make of its absence – perhaps the whole idea has been shelved and SIA Chairman, Elizabeth France, has reconsidered her stated determination to push regulation as far as possible. Could it have finally dawned on the SIA that the needless introduction of two layers of licensing would simply mean swapping a scheme that adds value for one that has none whatsoever?

“So what’s the initiative that adds value? It’s the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), which is designed to raise performance standards and assist the private security industry in developing new opportunities. The ACS was developed in consultation with representatives from across the industry and covers those parts of it that are regulated by the SIA and the Private Security Industry Act 2001. In effect, it is a type of business licensing scheme – albeit voluntary – that already exists and achieves its objectives.

“It should not be forgotten that the ACS is a major revenue stream for the SIA, which receives funding from two main sources. Around 90 per cent comes from licence fees and ACS subscriptions, with approximately £2.5m comes from the Home Office, as grant-in-aid for capital expenditure. In fact, it appears that the Home Office is the only body in favour of business licensing, rather than government or industry.

Corps Security has been a member of the ACS since 2006 and I’ve always found it to be a rigorous scheme that is applied well, although there is room for improvement in terms of scope and effectiveness. Put simply, at the moment scores are not published and although I can understand why, it does mean that a company with 10 points out of 170 has equal standing to us, with 156 points.

“I would therefore suggest that in order to drive best practice and encourage companies to get more points and improve levels of service, a tiered system should be employed. This could be as simple as having bronze, silver, gold and platinum designations and would offer competitive advantage, without giving individual scores, by publishing the names of organisations in each group. In addition, the SIA could do more to raise awareness of the ACS amongst end users and turn it into a real quality mark. Although it already does this to a certain extent through its audit process, the SIA could also provide more guidance about how to get more points and, as a result, increase the value that it offers participating companies.

“Back to the SIA Draft Corporate Plan and one expression that was used in it struck me as rather odd, which was ‘right touch regulation’. It’s one of those catchy buzz-phrases that appears to make sense when it is first read, but actually means very little when you really start to think about it. The document also states that its vision is for a ‘private security industry so committed to improving standards and protecting the public that it needs minimal regulation’. Put these two statements together with the SIA’s backing of a new business licensing system and its position on regulation seems confused at best and, at worst, misleading.

“I sincerely urge the SIA to focus its attention on developing the ACS and maintaining the rigorous standards of individual licensing that have transformed the industry, something that is to its immense credit. However, I happened to notice that the aim is to publish the final SIA Corporate Plan by 1st April – I’m just crossing my fingers that I’ve not been fooled into getting my hopes up about the end of business licensing”.

Corps Security Website

Opinions expressed by contributors and commentators do not necessarily reflect the views of or Interconnective Limited.