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

The SIA’s CEO Bill Butler talks to Brian Sims about regulation’s change framework, the key risks and dependencies associated with it and the next steps to be taken.

The change programme diagram that Security Industry Authority CEO Bill Butler described to me is the real nitty gritty that, as stated, has formed the basis of discussions with Government minister Lynne Featherstone. It sets out how things currently work, and how things will work.

If we were to look at regulation as it stands in March 2011, the landscape takes on a certain form.

The industry is regulated by a Home Office NDPB (ie the SIA). That NDPB has a responsibility for specifying individual skills requirements and business quality standards.

Regulation is conducted through a direct relationship with 350,000 licensed individuals and 700 businesses employing 70% of those active individuals operational in the sector.

Licensing for individuals is, in the main, a paper-based procedure. The approval of businesses is also a paper-based exercise, and combines both fit and proper and quality checks.

The SIA, of course, also manages compliance and enforcement.

After 2012, things will be different… The skills sector will set individual skills requirements. The industry will be responsible for business quality standards.

Businesses will own the licensing relationship with most individuals. Those same businesses will conduct basic checks.

The industry itself will own and operate a business quality scheme. Compliant businesses will be supported by enhanced compliance and enforcement activity.

Regulation will be carried out by a body outside of the NDPB sector, and be delivered through a relationship with 2,500 businesses.

On top of that, there will be a modernised fit and proper registration service for all businesses and individuals.

Compliance and enforcement efforts will be concentrated on serious risks and non-compliance, with still more effective targeting of serious organised criminality.

Greater focus on compliance and enforcement

“What the diagram shows is that the Regulator will be allowed to concentrate on regulation of businesses and a fit and proper registration service for individuals, with a greater focus on compliance and enforcement. It will not be involved in training standards, individual relationships between those who are working in the industry and the businesses for whom they work.”

There are dates in mind for when all the necessary changes could take place, but they need to be agreed by the politicians and will heavily depend on the Parliamentary timetable (which is tightly packed at the best of times).

SMT Online suggested to Butler that the change programme smacks of the new Regulator having a high-level policing role.

“The Regulator will have the ultimate say in who joins the register, Brian. You will not be saying to security companies: “Establish your own set of standards”. What you will be saying is that they have the key to a portal which will allow them to register people. Where there are issues on right to work or criminality, those decisions will still need to be made centrally.”

There are some fairly difficult hurdles to overcome, notably in terms of the changes the Government is proposing around the CRB checks. If they were actually carrying out the criminality checks, then companies would have to be registered to do that.

“It’s not a straightforward ‘let go’, shall we say,” continued Butler, “but in any event the good businesses are rigorous about these checks. At the moment, the business facilitates a CRB check and so do we. We need to get rid of that duplication.”

Butler also feels that “something rather better” must surely be achievable in terms of the individual licensing system.

“A given applicant should be able to pay to register once and then maintain that membership on an annual basis via a subscription covering both businesses and individuals. You’re there on the list for all time as long as you meet the right standards.”

Earlier in our conversation the SIA’s CEO talked about trusted businesses, but it’s also important to realise there are individuals coming up for their third licence renewal phase.

“They were in the industry for a long time before regulation,” opined Butler. “It’s about time we started to show trust in their role in the industry rather better. Those who are there deserve to be there given the robust processes we have in place.”

Key risks and dependencies

Almost inevitably, there are key risks and dependencies surrounding the new regulatory regime irrespective of what form it takes.

  • Agreement on funding/resources for transition, ongoing responsibilities and future arrangements

Butler suggested there are two elements at play here: where will the money come from, and where will the necessary skill come from?

“We haven’t agreed on the money side yet. As for the skills? What skills can the industry lend to us and bring to the party? We want the industry to be a part of this.”

Indeed, this is an opportunity for people to speak and say what they think the ‘Brave New World’ should like. That’s actually helpful to the SIA, even if Butler doesn’t always agree with what’s being said.

“Quite often, people think of areas that we haven’t yet addressed. That input is vitally important. We can feed it back into the consultation process. We don’t want people to regret they haven’t said anything.”

There will be much consultation going on, of course, what with the two Stakeholder Conferences in 2011 as well as the ongoing ACS Forums. Added Butler: “We’re hoping to do some Roadshows, too.”

  • Readiness of the industry and its partner organisations to accept responsibilities and engage in the delivery of regulation

This is a very significant change, as Butler pointed out.

“Regulation is not a spectator sport. It will require some changes in the way businesses work. Over 60% of individuals currently pay their own costs for training and licensing. You don’t get registration, compliance and enforcement without paying. It does mean people need to engage sooner rather than later if they want to benefit from the new regime.”

Butler added that “things work better when the industry engages with us”, but not for a minute is he suggesting that the Regulator is entirely without fault.

“Undoubtedly there are things that we could have, and still could do better. What I will not do is compromise the new regime by making it a penny-pinching one.”

Interestingly, whenever the SIA asks people in the industry what they want, invariably they say they would like to see far more enforcement for far less cost. “I’m not quite sure how that equation works, but I do want to be transparent about costs,” said Butler.

  • Enabling legislation to be in place in time

Some change can be engendered under the Terms and Conditions of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 via statutory instrument, but there’s a stated need primary legislation. Parliamentary time is the key here.

  • Management of risks around uncertainty as to the future regime

“This is a big issue,” said Butler, pulling no punches. “People do worry about it. Individuals are uncertain. Companies are uncertain. We are doing our level best to keep them informed about what’s going on.”

We now have a situation where some members of the police service, licensees and both existing and potential security operatives believe a licence is no longer needed. Consequently, this may well be placing honest and hardworking members of the sector at risk of prosecution.

Not only that, such confusion paves the way for the return of the very people licensing was meant to prevent from working in the sector in the first place.

Most certainly, Butler doesn’t want to spend the next year prosecuting disqualified people from the industry. “That would be a travesty. The leaks gave people an idea of a situation at that point in time, and it’s always very difficult to then put the genie back in the bottle.”

As part of the Austerity 2010 measures, the SIA had to slash its marketing budget. However, other promotional avenues have presented themselves.

“Our ability to spread the word via Facebook and Twitter, for example, has been ideal,” commented Butler. “We have developed our newsletter, too. We want to use vehicles like these that are accessible.”

Managing the uncertainty has been difficult, though, and that situation will likely not become any easier.

“For example, I receive e-mails from certain parts of the country saying that door supervisors there have taken the decision not to re-licence, and what are we going to do about it? Obviously, we have to address such occurrences. I cannot allow standards to slip. We have made so much progress and we must not lose that progression.”

  • Agreement on arrangements with the Home Office on support for management delivery and stability at the SIA

Some of the people affected by all of the uncertainty at present are those who work at – and for – the SIA itself. If the powers that be are to make a success of the ‘phased transition to a new regulatory regime’ then those peoples’ skills are going to be all-important.

In general, how is morale at 90 High Holborn? “When the leak was first out in the open it was difficult,” responded Butler. I don’t doubt there are still privately-held uncertainties and that the issue is a topic of conversation.”

Nonetheless, to their great and everlasting credit the staff have remained steadfastly loyal to the cause.

“People have stayed with the organisation. Our staff turnover is really low. We have the skills here to keep the business going. The reason why Government has asked us to lead this transition phase through to completion and taken our advice is not because we write good plans. It’s because we can demonstrate that, for the last seven years, we have been on top of our core business.”

Butler and Co have made significant cost savings, too.

“We will spend around £8 million less this year than last,” he said positively. “Demonstrating how you spend your money, and that you spend it wisely, is very important. That’s part of our responsibility towards the people who pay for the licence badges.”

Regulation for the future: the next steps

Clearly, further and detailed consultation with the industry is going to be of paramount importance.

“It has been helpful to us that the industry has brigaded together under the banner of the Security Alliance,” explained Butler. “The progress that has been made to reach that stage is recognised.”

A Strategic Consultation Group has now been established, and it’s one that includes representation from all the major bodies: The Security Alliance, ASIS, IPSA, The Security Institute, the BSIA, ACPO, Home Office representatives, observers from the Scottish and Northern Ireland Governments, a representative for small businesses and one for the buyers of security plus two heavyweight independents (Lord Stevens and Lord Carlile).

Butler told me that the Group doesn’t have executive powers. “It’s not a Steering Group, but it is a weighty group. This is not the end of the consultation process, though. It’s a useful piece of co-ordination. The forthcoming Stakeholder Conferences will allow people to air their views.”

Naturally, the Security Alliance is a key part of the consultation process. “We do not have exclusive negotiation rights with the Security Alliance,” confirmed Butler. “They are there because they are heavily representative of the industry.”

Five meetings per year have been agreed for the Strategic Consultation Group going forward, but the timescale for those meetings will be “determined by events”.

Butler is adamant about the need to work with the industry to develop detailed plans for the future.

“What should business regulation look like? Do we draw on Codes of Practice? If you’re working in the CCTV sector, for example, the proposed Code of Practice that’s out for consultation just now might be relevant.”

He added: “There’s quite a lot to be done. Should the Regulator prescribe a Code of Practice, or merely agree on one formulated elsewhere?”

Butler also has to work with officials in the Home Office to put the necessary statutory orders in place. “We need reporting arrangements to keep ministers and those in the industry clear about what’s happening.”

In among all of that, he’s charged with keeping the current regime ticking over and maintaining standards all the while. “Standards must never slip. That is paramount in my thinking and decision-making processes.”

Why change what isn’t broken?

Nearing the conclusion of our discussion, and having run through the change framework for private sector regulation in some detail, one question readily sprang to mind: why change what isn’t broken? Why is the discussion not about ‘a new SIA’?

“I can understand that point of view, but I don’t want to sound like a petty bureaucrat,” responded Butler with no hesitation. “Some people may take that view, but the Government has made clear its desires.”

Butler continued: “If you’d told me last June that we’d be sitting here having this conversation nine months after Ruth Henig had said we need to change the way we do things, and we had agreement from the industry and Government about the building blocks for the new regime, we wouldn’t be unhappy.”

He added: “In nine months we’ve come a long way, and so has the industry. It’s important we don’t lose track. Some of this is what we wished for some time ago. We’re on track and making the right progress.”

Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for Butler and his colleagues at the SIA, and nor will getting to where regulation’s ultimately going. In fact, it will probably be at least as difficult, if not more so.

“There are still tough debates to be had, but I’m reasonably optimistic that we have the opportunity to do what we and the industry have been saying we want to do. That is to shoulder full responsibility for the future.”

Whatever the change framework, everyone must be singing from the same hymn sheet… and the end game simply must deliver.

SMT Online’s Editor Brian Sims and Bobby Logue, Editor of, would like to thank the SIA’s CEO Bill Butler for his invaluable assistance with this series of pivotal articles.