You may remember some time back I wrote a blog on info4security concerning the formidable topic of Business Bingo. If you recall, I listed some of the mind-bendingly ludicrous phrases PR and marketing types dream up to make themselves sound important. ‘Going forward’… ‘Grab the low-hanging fruit’… ‘Shoot the nearest crocodile to the boat…’ That kind of thing. I heard a new one the other week, in fact, along the lines of: “We need to re-purpose the content” (which, in plain English, means ‘edit’). Excuse me while I shake my head in mock wonderment and genuine disbelief. Anyway, just when I thought I had all of my ‘ducks in a row’ (I do apologise for this gratuitous Business Bingo inclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen) in relation to this week’s SMT Online Editor’s View, up pops the Regulator with a curve ball that knocked me off the plate.IN-HOUSE REGULATION: ON THE SHELF
Yesterday, an official Security Industry Authority (SIA) statement popped into my Inbox under the banner heading ‘Insufficient evidence found to support licensing of in-house guards’. I blinked and looked again. The first sentence of the copy proper states: ‘Licensing requirements will not be extended to include in-house security guards’. Clearly, my eyes had not deceived me. Apparently, the SIA review of this thorny situation that has persisted since licensing began involved a wide consultation with the industry which “found insufficient substantiated evidence of risk or threat to the public to support in-house licensing”. The assessment “took into account that regulation should only be targeted where action is needed, and that regulation should only intervene where there’s a clear case for public protection”. The research encompassed think tank sessions, paper and web-based questionnaires, workshop sessions (during which 82 peoples’ opinions were canvassed), one-to-one meetings with key stakeholders and desk-based research.
RETAILERS IN FAVOUR OF THE DECISION
Presumably with a huge smile on his face, British Retail Consortium (BRC) director general Stephen Robertson wasted no time in asking his press office to issue a statement on the decision. “The Government is right to reject licensing for in-house security guards,” eulogised Robertson. “It would have piled new costs and bureaucracy onto already hard-pressed retailers while adding nothing to public protection.” Retailing is the largest employer of in-house guards, and the BRC provided “extensive evidence” to the SIA of the “good practice adopted by its members”. The BRC also suggested that, in any case, retailers’ standards for recruitment and training could not be raised because they’re already higher than those demanded by the Regulator. A touch of arrogance there, perhaps? As they say on the Big Brother eviction vote: ‘You decide’.
OK. Let’s start from the top. It’s high time the Home Office (and, ergo, the Regulator) desisted from using the phrase ‘guard’. We’re talking about wanting to professionalise this element of security provision, so let’s do away with the antiquated terminology, please. Besides, security officers do much more than just ‘guarding’ these days, or hasn’t anyone noticed.I used the term ‘security officer’ in Security Management Today’s print edition for ten years. Right from the day I started, and I’m continuing that tradition with Security Management Today Online because I believe its right. Using the excuse of there being no perceived “risk or threat to the public” as a result of not licensing in-house is, frankly, a classic case of ticking the boxes and holding the party line. Just like a tick box inspection, in fact, it looks at the core of the issue and singularly fails – either by design or default – to assess the perimeter detail.
FOUR ISSUES ONE VOICE
Bobby Logue (editor of Infologue.com) and I began the Four Issues One Voice Campaign back in 2006 with the in-house licensing issue as its central plank. Why did we do that? In the main, because both of us had been privy to so many complaints and mumblings from in-house security managers forced to preside over ‘guarding’ [sic] teams where some of the personnel are licensed and some not. “It’s just not workable” was the cry.
I put it to the powers-that-be that this situation remains unworkable. Fair enough, it’s not posing a threat to the public (at least not on the face of it, anyway), but what about the practicalities? What about the goings-on at that perimeter I just mentioned? People in Government have been remorseless in championing the fact that licensed officers have overtaken their once seen-to-be loftier in-house counterparts because the former are all now properly qualified and thoroughly checked by the Criminal Record Bureau to do the job they do.
So why is there no desire to license those who have allegedly now fallen behind? At the perimeter – in other words, the real world – there can be genuine discrepancies in wages between the two groups, not to mention differing levels of training. That breeds resentment in security teams, which then begets mistrust, tension and a tetchy working environment. In-house officers are, generally speaking, better paid and work far more desirable hours, with training more specific and suitable to the role rather than being generic. One might even speculate as to whether or not the decision to ignore in-house security personnel infringes upon the Human Rights of contracted officers?
BIG BUDGETS, SMALL PROCUREMENT PAYOUT
Is Stephen Robertson suggesting that EVERY retailer’s security operation is that good they’re above and beyond the SIA’s radar? If he is then I’m cynical about that statement. Incredibly cynical, and I’ll tell you why. I vividly recall attending the BRC’s annual Retail Crime Survey report launch back in 2001, just around the time that licensing reared its head above the parapet.
There were several major retailers in the room. I’ll not name them for fear of embarrassment on their part. Suffice to say that these blue chip companies’ heads of loss prevention and security were standing up one after another to proclaim their distaste for – and disinterest in – regulation, and make it plain that they weren’t going to cough up any extra for their contracted-in security provisions whether the Government liked it or not. I don’t believe for one minute that every retailer is doing things properly where security is concerned. These people have the biggest security budgets after local authorities and yet year after year after year the statistics tell us assaults on staff are on the up, so too instances of theft (most notably through the back door).
If the in-store, in-house security is so good and the training so top notch, why is that the case? Leaving the recession to one side for a moment, and omitting the fact that we do seem to harbour a burgeoning Knuckle-Scraper Brigade in this country nowadays, thefts are on the rise because security provisions are not as good as they could be. On top of that, plenty of retailers are happy to accept losses because it’s just too much hassle (and expense) to put thieves through the courts, only to see those miscreants let off the hook by some legal type hopelessly out of touch with everyone else’s universe.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MELTDOWN ARRIVES?
Before I go any further, this is not intended as a diatribe against retailers. I’m merely making a point. A point that says if any in-house security personnel are not subject to licensing and haven’t been properly trained, what will be the outcome of a serious incident in a given store? Possibly an incident involving edged weapons or firearms? The lowly-skilled in-house officer, perhaps with the most basic of Basic Job Training regimes behind him or her, could unwittingly escalate a conflict resolution situation to the point where serious losses occur or, God forbid, someone is killed. Is this not the type of situation that’s injurious to the public good? Let’s not forget, either, that there are all sorts of implications here in relation to the Corporate Manslaughter Act, but that’s an issue in its own right.
Returning to the official SIA statement, acting chief executive Andy Drane explains that no evidence was provided by the industry that would justify extending licensing to in-house officers. That being the case, this industry of ours has done itself a great disservice and absolutely no favours whatsoever. Revisiting the Business Bingo theme, where does that leave us in relation to the ‘level playing field’ everyone was talking about at the QEII Conference Centre back in the spring of 2003 when the SIA launched for real. The truth is that there isn’t a level playing field in sight, is there? What we’ve had from Day One is a disconnected mish-mash of licensed officers and unlicensed ones. A scenario compounded of late by the absence of any discernible differentiator on the company front, with a whopping 610 contractors now on the Approved list.
Citing one retailer who happens to think that a mixed team of officers – some of whom are licensed and some not – presents no problem is not a representative sample. Neither is the rather meagre count of 125 companies questioned. I notice that the construction sector isn’t in the mix, and yet that’s one vertical space (if you’ll pardon the pun) where there has been a huge amount of trouble. Ask chief constable Bernard Hogan-Howe of the Merseyside Police if you don’t believe me.
DISAPPOINTMENT AND CONCERN IN EQUAL MEASURE
I would suggest the ACS situation’s not healthy for anyone except Gordon Brown’s money men. Where is the elitism in that landscape? Personally, I don’t see it, and I’m now deeply disappointed and seriously concerned about the content of this latest missive from the Regulator. If it’s correct that there was ‘insufficient evidence found to support the licensing of in-house guards’, it would be interesting to discover what our leading Trade Association – the British Security Industry Association – had to say on this matter?
The only glimmer of hope is that there’s a ‘request’ from the Home Office to revisit the issue of in-house regulation in around three years’ time. I sincerely hope those industry folk who chose to keep their views to themselves this time around are a little more vocal in 2012. I for one like the idea of a compulsory registration scheme put forward by the university managers. Who knows, maybe the Home Office mandarins might even be referring to ‘security officers’ rather than ‘guards’ by the time three years is up, but I wouldn’t put my second ministerial home’s furnishings on it.
Brian Sims – SMT Online Editor – 11 May 2009