Peter Webster – It’s all to play for as we get ready to go to the polls

Peter Webster - Chief Executive of Corps Security
Peter Webster - Chief Executive of Corps Security

Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, a regular blogger, discusses the general election. He writes: “As I write this blog, last Thursday’s Channel 4/Sky ‘election special’ programme is firmly in my mind and it brought into sharp focus just how tight this contest will be. With much more debate, comment and analysis to take place between now and 7th May, I’ve been giving some thought to the effect the policies of the Labour and Conservative parties could have on the security industry.

“I should of course point out that although one of these two parties will almost certainly form the next government, with no outright leader in the polls the chances are that they will need to join forces with one of the smaller parties to form a majority. The success, or otherwise, of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat partnership of the last five years is a moot point and with public enthusiasm for government by coalition at its lowest in 30 years, that’s exactly what we look set to have. Therefore, the impact of the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party (SNP), UKIP and the Green Party etc. should not be underestimated.

“With party manifestos yet to be published the issue of spending continues to dominate the political discussion. Broadly speaking, the Conservatives will focus on continued fiscal consolidation, UK devolution, and a renegotiation of EU membership, while labour will look towards a less aggressive deficit reduction programme in order to limit what it perceives to be the negative effects of austerity.

“I think that the Tories’ promise of a referendum on EU membership will continue to cause a degree of uncertainty for those in the security industry that export their goods and services outside of the UK. Similarly, if Labour forms an alliance with the SNP, the whole issue of Scottish independence could raise its head again. While these macro issues are obviously important, it is only by drilling down into some of the specific points that we can identify what the effect each party could have on the security industry.

“During the interviews Jeremy Paxman conducted with David Cameron and Ed Miliband during The Battle for Number 10 programme, zero hours contracts was a recurring theme. Regular readers of my blogs will know that I think that they can play a positive role in the security sector by offering employment to a diverse group of people who don’t want set hours and would otherwise find it difficult to earn money. That said, it is clear that some employers are abusing zero hours contracts to create an intolerable situation for their employees, either by putting them ‘on call’ 24/7 or by stopping them from taking additional work elsewhere. This is unacceptable.

“However, I think that both the Conservatives and Labour need to be careful on this issue and stop relying on hyperbole. Labour seems most vociferous about exploitative zero hours contracts, with Ed Miliband claiming they have ‘no place in the 21st century’. The Conservatives seem far more circumspect and Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has argued that they ‘provide people with a flexible way of working and the freedom to arrange jobs around other commitments’.

“Whichever way the pendulum swings on this issue, there are lot of people who could be affected by any changes. Data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) indicates that the number of people employed on zero hours contracts between October and December 2014, was 697,000 or 2.3 per cent of all people in employment. Of course nobody knows how many of these choose to have a flexible contract as it suits their lifestyle and alternatively how many feel that it is potentially exploiting them.

“A related issue, and one that I have also blogged about recently, concerns how the two main parties will help the nation’s lowest earners enhance their pay packets. Wage rates in the manned guarding sector have been a significant cause of concern for many years and, to my mind, it is not helping our cause to improve the image of the security industry.

“The government recently announced that the minimum wage would be raised by three per cent to £6.70 an hour from October 2015 – welcome news that will give a pay rise to over 1.4 million of the lowest paid workers in our country. Labour, however, has stated that it will raise the National Minimum Wage (NMW) to £8 an hour before the end of the next parliament and also promises to strengthen enforcement ‘so that those paying less than the minimum wage do not get away with it.’

“I would like to see more employers pay the rates outlined by the Living Wage, wherever and whenever possible. The current Living Wage is 21 per cent higher than the NMW at £7.85 an hour and this rises to £9.15 an hour in London. During 2014 the number of accredited Living Wage employers more than doubled, with over 1,000 employers across the UK having now signed up. That said, any improvement to the NMW will have a positive impact on those at the sharp end of the manned guarding sector.

“On a wider level, proposed changes to public sector procurement policy will also affect small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) like Corps Security. Labour has stated its desire to establish a Small Business Administration and even though this is a noble objective, it appears the Labour Finance and Industry Group’s recommendation is to ensure there is at least one procurement professional for every £1m of central government spend which seems ill-thought out as, for example, a £10m contract would require the employment of 10 different buyers to administer it!

“The Conservatives, meanwhile, are ‘aspiring’ to channel 25 per cent of spend through SMEs and in 2014 it commissioned a report by McKain Consultants, which recommended simplify bidding for contracts and offering suppliers an even stronger route to challenge procurement approaches and decisions.

“I’m pleased that both parties are pledging to do something positive on this issue, as in recent times the security industry has had to bear witness to what can happen when things go wrong. Who can forget the debacle when G4S was contracted to provide all of the security for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games? Contrast that with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where 16 different security service providers were used and it went without a hitch.

“As the election race heats up, I’m sure there will be many more talking points to come. Please feel free to post your comments about which party or scenario you think would be the best for the security industry.”

Corps Security Website

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