Peter Webster – The SIA Chief is open to debate

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 his meeting with Alan Clamp, Chief Executive Officer of the Security Industry Authority. Peter writes: “As the key driver behind regulation in the private security industry, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) is under the spotlight like never before. As someone that hasn’t pulled any punches when it comes to outlining where I think the organisation is going wrong, I was both surprised and delighted when Alan Clamp, its Chief Executive Officer, invited me to discuss some of the industry’s big issues.

“It transpired that Mr Clamp is aware of my blogs and over the course of our candid and vigorous debate he remained open minded, genuinely interested and, just as importantly, was clearly someone with a clear grasp of the challenges he faces.

“The first topic that I wanted to address concerned the ongoing problems associated with the SIA’s new online licensing system. To say it has not lived up to expectations was something that Mr Clamp acknowledged as being unacceptable. Without making excuses, he offered assurances that the issues are being dealt with.

“Our conversation turned to the proposed introduction of the statutory licensing of private security businesses. Despite the fact that huge amounts of administrative duplication and expense would be required to implement it, the SIA still seems to see it as a potential way forward. I argued that the SIA’s claim to want minimal regulation cannot be reconciled with its support of business licensing – something that it was hard to gauge Mr Clamp’s thoughts on.

“In my view, the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) already raises performance standards and assists the private security industry in developing new opportunities, albeit with lots of room for improvement in terms of scope and effectiveness. Therefore, I was pleased that Mr Clamp was receptive to the idea that the ACS could be an excellent basis for an initiative that could drive best practice.

“I went on to suggest that in order to encourage companies to get more ACS points and improve levels of service, a tiered system should be employed. The SIA could then publish details of the different companies within each tier – it could be as simple as having bronze, silver, gold designations – and this would offer competitive advantage, drive up standards, and give end users a better idea of what to look for in a provider. In addition, I pointed out that the SIA should be doing more to raise awareness of the ACS amongst end users and turn it into a real quality mark. This would enable end users to gain an insight into whether a security services provider merely meets the basic criteria for approval or exceeds them.

“I was then thrown something that in common parlance is referred to a ‘curveball’. Mr Clamp asked me how I would feel if business licensing was made a first step on the ACS ladder. Given that this would avoid duplication and negate the additional administrative and financial burden of business licensing, I have to say that the idea struck me as sensible, workable and potentially beneficial.

“Our conversation soon evolved into a discussion about raising the overall status and professionalism of the security industry, as there’s no getting away from the fact that it suffers from an image problem. At this point Mr Clamp expressed his concern that there should be clear demarcation between what the SIA does as a regulator and the role of the industry, possibly through its trade body. I went on to state that we need a vocal, vociferous, and dynamic trade association to deal with the issues that are outside of the SIA’s remit – something that we are sadly lacking at the moment.

“We did agree that a thriving business sector, which employs an estimated 350,000 professional licensed operatives, deserves more respect. This respect must be earned though and independently verified performance based accreditation, under the regulator’s control, and would go a long way in demonstrating that, on the whole, contracts are fulfilled and customers satisfied with their manned guarding services.

“The success, perception and reputation of the manned guarding sector are inextricably linked to the people that work in it. The industry struggles to attract high quality individuals and we agreed that this was, in part, down to the low rates of pay that security officers often receive. Like other service industries, the impact of the National Living Wage is being felt with differentials being eroded. Mr Clamp and I exchanged a number of opinions and I explained why employers should pay the rates defined by the Living Wage Foundation’s Living Wage wherever and whenever possible.

“We need to compete head on with other industries in order to be considered an attractive career choice. Some specialist security services providers like Corps Security are going the extra mile in terms of training and career development, but if things are to really change in this respect we will need to raise the profile of the industry at a macro level.

“Our meeting concluded having covered significant ground, with food for thought on both sides. The task ahead of the SIA should not be underestimated and it is up to the security industry as a whole to question and support our regulatory body by working together. I therefore believe Mr Clamp’s willingness to engage in debate and discussion should be welcomed and built upon”.

Corps Security Website