Peter Webster – The big questions for 2014

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

I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.

One of the main objectives when writing my blogs is to open up discussion and get people thinking and talking. Since beginning my series of missives I have been pleasantly surprised with the amount of feedback I have received – not all of it agreeing with my views. Mainly the feedback has been through discussions with readers I meet, rather than them posting comments on this site. However the feedback clearly demonstrates the level of strong feeling regarding the issues that affect all of us in the security sector.

The end of the year always offers the chance to reflect and look forward to what’s ahead. As well as planning another successful year for Corps Security, during the Christmas break I also took time to assess the bigger picture in terms of the issues that may impact upon our industry. Below I address six such issues and in addition to me confirming my views on each of them, I would also really like to hear your opinions – opinions which will hopefully prompt some further topical debate from other Blog-readers relating to these important matters.

Please use the comment option on this site to give feedback, either in support of my views or otherwise!

Will the situation regarding the Security Industry Authority (SIA) get resolved in 2014?

My views about this are documented in a previous blog and despite many discussions since about the proposed plans for the phased transition to a business regulation regime, I still see absolutely no benefit to changing the current situation. In fact, the disruption and confusion already caused has meant that the situation is rapidly descending into farce.

Having crunched the numbers, we estimate that business licencing on top of the existing individual licencing will cost Corps Security an additional £50,000 a year. The increased bureaucracy, time and uncertainty it will cause means that there is no value at all to going down this route.

Customers, quite understandably, will be highly resistant to increased charges for unnecessary additional security licencing, so it could mean that those who demonstrate continual improvement via the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) could decide to withdraw from it to save money. I believe this would simply mean swapping a great scheme that adds real value for one that has none whatsoever, and the industry will inevitably suffer as a result.

Will we see changes in the public procurement of security services?

This is another huge bugbear of mine and when news broke last year that G4S and Serco had allegedly been overcharging the Ministry of Justice enormous sums of money for electronic tagging services, it reaffirmed my long held view that a root and branch overhaul of procurement policy is absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately, the government is blindly convinced that big is beautiful and rather than learning from its lessons it continues to give massive contracts to individual companies that potentially offer poor executive control and low levels of performance. I’m convinced that splitting these contracts and awarding them to smaller companies would increase attention to detail, transparency, competiveness and innovation.

Is the trend of Total Facilities Management (TFM) and/or Integrated Service Bundling coming to an end?

I don’t think that we will see any major changes to the way some companies use multi-service providers during 2014. However, I do think that there will be a slowing down of the rate at which service bundling is adopted.

What is often referred to as ‘total facilities management’ or integrated services has created a situation where lowest cost and convenience has taken precedence over procuring the type of specialist services that offer genuine long term advantages. I firmly believe that for any service that is as business critical to end-users as manned guarding, only specialist providers can offer the requisite levels of focus, skill and experience needed to ensure that optimum standards are achieved and maintained. What’s more, only specialist providers should be entrusted to deliver the accurate risk and threat assessments which should underpin every manned guarding service.

Security needs to be considered as different from any other service that a business has to procure and there is significant peace of mind to be had from knowing that a fully licensed, trained and qualified specialist is on hand to deal with any situation.

Should there be a change to the UK’s security threat status?

With the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games set to take place in the summer, the question about maintaining or increasing our current threat status is sure to be on the minds of many security professionals.

Of course, it is MI5 (the Security Service) which assesses and sets the official threat level/status. At present this is assessed as: substantial – the third from highest. The vigilance of the security services has been very high for a number of years, but notwithstanding this, there seems little reason to expect a downward adjustment in the threat level for the foreseeable future.

With terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda maintaining a foothold in the Middle East, and with an escalation of extremism in Northern Ireland, we must all continue to maintain our awareness of the risk posed by international and especially home grown terrorist activity – a danger that shows no sign of abating.

Will we see any changes to the UK’s labour laws?

Zero hours contracts made headlines during 2013 and to my mind there was a great deal of misinformation and scaremongering regarding this issue. Although there is evidence to suggest that some employers are using zero hours contracts in ways that negatively affect their employees, the security industry is an example of how they can be implemented properly and benefit all parties.

That said, the Labour party is continuing its call for reform and, in my opinion, using the issue for political point scoring. The coalition government, however, appears unlikely to change the status quo, so I can’t see any changes before the next general election. More recently the focus has been on ‘agency labour’ and the difficulty here is how do you draw the line between agency and contracted services? This could be a serious potential threat to our industry.

However it is easy to shout loudly from the opposition benches and even if Labour does get into power after the next election, I think they would find that altering the existing system would be incredibly difficult on a practical level. For example it is estimated that one in five employers has at least one employee on a zero hours contract.

Is there a need to increase privacy laws?

The issue of privacy was brought to the fore when Edward Snowden, a former spy at America’s National Security Agency (NSA), released 58,000 classified documents to the Guardian, before fleeing to Russia. The documents showed that phone and Internet data from individuals has been accessed on a massive scale.

I believe that the security services around the world have, on the whole, been extremely effective in recent years in thwarting many potential attacks – thanks in no small part to effective information gathering (and collaboration with organisations such as Corps Security whose employees are the often “the eyes and ears on the ground” for counter terrorist agencies).

Therefore, I believe allowing access to certain types of personal information is a small price to pay – I have nothing to hide and the only people that should worry are those with malicious intent. Limiting the ability of the security services to carry out their work effectively will only put lives in danger.

So there are some of my key questions for 2014 – I really would welcome your comments and opinions please.

Corps Security Website

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