The SIA’s Future: Brian Sims interviews Bill Butler (Part One)

What is regulation really going to look like in a post-Public Bodies Bill world? The SIA’s CEO Bill Butler talks exclusively to Brian Sims about the ‘phased transition to a new regulatory regime’ and answers questions posed by SMT Online and’s Editor Bobby Logue.

“I’m fully aware of the fact that we’ve been maintaining more or less radio silence since last October. That has been important for everybody, because after the leak of what might be happening to the Security Industry Authority, and then the subsequent announcement from the House in October about the arms length bodies review, it was important we didn’t give out any knee-jerk reaction.”

This opening gambit from the Security Industry Authority’s (SIA) CEO as we sat down in his office at 90 High Holborn to discuss ‘What Happens Next?’ in the ongoing saga of private sector regulation was nothing less than you’d expect from Bill Butler.

This is a man who never fudges any issue, and always tells it like it is. Both are qualities to be admired in any CEO, but particularly so given the remit of transparency in communication Butler set out for himself and the organisation he leads right from Day One.

“It was more important that we started to work on what the future of regulation might be, Brian,” he continued. “We had to work with the industry and with its key Stakeholders: those who buy security services, members of the police service and local authority officials so that we could formulate an appropriate and measured response to the present situation.”

That present situation is one about which many practitioners remain bemused. Is the SIA going to stick around as an organisation in some form or another, or is it being scrapped altogether?

What about the Approved Contractor Scheme? Will any move towards business registration signal its end?

Above all, perhaps, what’s regulation going to look like in a few years’ time once the not inconsiderable task of securing the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games has been put to bed?

From my own point of view (and, one respectfully suggests, it’s a view shared by many others), it’s pretty clear post-Austerity 2010 there’s a strong body of opinion in the industry and beyond that a good case can be made for modernising and developing the regulatory regime. It’s also abundantly clear that there should remain robust regulation for the industry per se.

Inaugural Stakeholder meetings in late 2010

“The industry’s desire for continued regulation started to emerge after the first few Stakeholder meetings at the end of last year,” chipped in Butler. “I suppose the kind of metaphor one might use for this is that we’ve developed an approach to licensing individuals in England and Wales that works.”

Although Butler recognises saying such things out loud is “always dangerous”, he firmly believes the system currently in place “deals with the basics we were asked to deal with” when the legislation first came into being.

“It’s a robust and standardised system for checking criminality. We also have a set of qualifications in place for different sectors. Those qualifications are understood, and duly link-in to the training hierarchy. We also have a system that allows people to demonstrate their qualifications, their criminality record and their identity, and to then be admitted to the private security industry.”

The SIA’s always confident CEO also wasted no time in talking about improvements made to the initial regulatory set-up.

“We have a system that does all of that in sensible timescales. The days of three years ago when some peoples’ experience of applying for and then receiving a licence was pretty dreadful are long gone. Most of our licences are now processed comfortably within a 20-day period.”

In even more bullish mode, Butler added: “If I was the head of a business like this one in any other sector, the prospect of being able to franchise that operation, focus our efforts where the real risk is and examine what the best approach to regulation might be is pretty appealing.”

At last year’s SIA Stakeholder Conference in central London, Butler stressed the industry simply cannot continue to blame the regulatory framework for all of its ills. Both he and Baroness Henig fervently wish the industry to be involved in moving regulation forward and shouldering some responsibility for how matters progress, obviously within certain parameters.

“I don’t think we were ever suggesting that self-regulation is the way forward, but what we are suggesting is that the industry has a greater role to play.” There’s no doubt about that on both counts.

At the heart of all that should, according to Butler and his colleagues at 90 High Holborn, be some form of business registration or recognition.

All of these desires have apparently sat well with the industry at large. Indeed, it was due to these oft-voiced ‘wants’ that the Security Alliance started to come together. An occurrence Butler described as “fortunate”.

Learning from what has gone before

To map out the future, one must always learn from the past. To this end, before we talked about ‘The Way Forward’ the SIA’s CEO took a step back to last September and the BBC News item about the ‘abolition’ of the SIA as part of The Cameron Coalition’s so-called ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’.

The original leak of the Government memo occurred on 22 September (a date Butler recalls well given that’s his birthday).

“BBC Scotland ran the story, and reporters began to amass outside our headquarters,” recounted Butler.

Obviously, what followed on the ensuing Friday morning was The Daily Telegraph leaking a whole list of bodies that might be subject to change.

Thankfully, the SIA’s meeting with ministers, campaigning initiated by SMT Online and and The Security Alliance members’ subsequent discussions ensured that what came out of the arm’s length bodies review was not the abolition of regulation.

“The original leak said something like: ‘Abolish self-regulation’. The actual announcement,” said Butler, “was very significantly different to that. It says ‘No longer an NDPB. Phased transition to a new regulatory regime’” A phrase destined never to be forgotten.

Butler and Henig were able to meet with the minister in the Home Office responsible for the SIA, namely Lynne Featherstone, shortly after the announcement. “It was a meeting that had been in the diary for some time, Brian. It certainly wasn’t arranged because of the announcement.”

The SIA’s chairman and CEO were able to go and talk to Featherstone on broadly the same lines that they would have talked to her had the coalition Government’s controversial announcement not been made.

“The meeting was all about our views that it was time to move on, that there was a need to modernise the regulatory regime and that there was a need for the industry to take greater responsibility.”

The SIA: will it be no more?

One question to which we’d all like a definitive answer, and sooner rather than later, is this… Is the SIA per se going to be no more at some point?

“At some point in time the SIA will no longer exist. It will be replaced by a body not in the Non-Departmental Public Body, or NDPB sector. That body, as we understand it, will have statutory responsibilities for regulation of the private security industry.”

How it’s all going to work going forward is still anyone’s guess, though. “We still don’t know ourselves,” suggested Butler.

“The only detail we have on that matter so far is the clear announcement by Baroness Neville-Jones in the House of Lords [in the debate concerning the proposed Amendment 59 to the Public Bodies Bill which took place on 28 February] that there will be primary legislation brought forward to introduce the new regime.”

So there’s absolutely no chance of the SIA – in some different and perhaps slimmed down form, and with a new remit – becoming the next Regulator for the industry?

“The trouble is that’s entirely speculative, Brian, because we don’t know at what point all of this change is going to happen. All we know for sure is that the next Regulator will not be an NDPB.”

In Baroness Neville-Jones’ speech (see the attached Word document on the right hand panel of this page), the security minister states that there will be “robust regulation” and goes on to say that, whomever is running the regime, they’ll be able to withdraw approval for businesses in certain circumstances such that they’ll not be able to trade.

Butler continued: “It’s quite clear that there will be a statutory framework with very robust provisions attached to it.”

Transforming to a new form of governance

At the moment, of course, there’s much talk about Government consultation with the industry, Stakeholders and, indeed, the SIA itself but the strong likelihood is that, at some point, the entity that’s currently called the SIA will transform to a new form of governance.

“There is a clear view from Government that it’s the role of industries and businesses to pick up things like Codes of Practice and take responsibility for themselves,” stressed Butler, “but equally the Government has a part to play in ensuring that those things are delivered effectively.”

Butler was entirely right when he told me that, if anyone looks across most of the organisations affected by the Public Bodies Bill, this ‘pattern’ or view from Government is consistent. The expectation is consistent, too.

“It’s a different expectation and framework than perhaps we’ve been used to,” he urged, “but it’s a new Government.”

In the final analysis, the important ‘end game’ is that there’s a robust framework for regulating the private security sector such that members of the public are protected. That is what’s in the public interest.

As far as Butler’s concerned, what you call the organisation is of less significance, but not everyone would ascribe to that particular view.

The SIA, the industry and its client base has spent seven long years building up the brand of the SIA and the ACS, not to mention much money buying into all of that.

In addition, it’s still the case that some people aren’t totally aux fait with the ‘old’ regulatory regime, and now we’re talking about potentially doing away with it all – lock, stock and barrel.

Surely the discussion should be about the next steps for the SIA, albeit a trimmed down one with a new remit, rather than turning the clock back to 2003?

“We know that the Regulator will no longer be an NDPB. Equally, there will be a Regulator going forward, and that Regulator will have the force of statute behind it. That’s about all we can say at the moment.”

That does leave open, of course, the possibility of changing the governance but keeping the name, then.

“There are debates around how the ACS will be run in the future, and what happens to that brand name. My view is that this change, as we’ve said from the beginning, should be all about the development and building of a new regime which adds to what has gone before. What it shouldn’t be is a ‘start again’ arrangement.”

Cost of changing the regime

As Butler and his management team delve further into consultation there are bound to be issues arising around the cost of changing the regime and the benefits to be realised as a result.

There’ll also be healthy debate on the timing of the change, and the branding of the new organisation. “There are still many things yet to be decided,” said Butler.

As Baroness Neville-Jones has talked in the Lords about the maintaining of standards, Butler suspects what will be laid before us all is the transfer to a new body rather than a wholesale ‘start again’. For many if not all practitioners in the sector, the latter would be wholly unacceptable.

Butler’s immediate focus is very much on detailed proposals for how regulation will work under the new regime, and to discuss with civil servants what new forms of governance they might have in mind.

“I expect that we’ll have a better idea later on this year in terms of what the next big steps will be,” he said.

What he really wants to focus on is a new regime that picks up from where the SIA currently sits. One that uses the opportunity offered by business registration to start “tightening up on basic standards” in security companies.

“We want to deal with that bottom end of the market which can give the whole industry a bad name due to its links with organised crime, poor standards and generally bad practice,” confirmed Butler.

“We really need to focus more on those security companies who, for example, neglect to pay tax and National Insurance properly. To get into that area in any depth and address those issues you really need to get a grip on standards in business.”

The opportunity to do so is there. The building blocks are in place, as evidenced by Baroness Neville-Jones’ speech in the House of Lords.

“It would be a real disappointment if all this process became was an order for new stationery with a different heading at the top,” stated Butler. “That’s not what I’m about.”

He went on to say: “At the heart of this is what we were talking about last June at the Stakeholder Conference, and what the industry and the Security Alliance has been discussing with us ever since. It’s about taking forward and modernising regulation so that it’s fit for purpose.”

The devil’s in the detail

We’re now nearing the end of what sales people would call Q1 2011. We all know that nothing significant will change before the end of 2012 once the Olympic Games have been concluded.

Baroness Neville-Jones has expressed the hope that significant change could have taken place by the end of 2013.

“What this means,” outlined Butler, “is that we’re building a scheme and arrangements that will be around for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and so on. A solution fit for the industry’s future and where it’s going rather than perhaps where it has been.”

The SIA’s CEO and chairman have secured agreement with Government as to what the fundamental building blocks of the future regulatory regime are going to be, but the devil will be in the detail.

“I’m always mindful of the fact that no plan survives first contact with the enemy wholly intact,” joked Butler. “It’s always worth bearing in mind that what you need is a clear idea of principles and direction, and a willingness to respond flexibly to any suggestions made.”

If you look at the principles the Security Alliance has enunciated for the future, one of the things this particular coalition has said is that it wants a system of governance where there’s more involvement from the industry.

However, to get to that stage you need to change the governance arrangements as they are currently set out for the SIA.

“I’m still not sure what the Alliance has in mind here,” Butler told me. “Now is the point at which we need to move on from broad statements to the real detail of the piece.”

In Part Two of this exclusive interview (also published this morning), SIA CEO Bill Butler talks to Brian Sims about the change framework for regulation and the future of the Approved Contractor Scheme.