The SIA’s Future: an industry vox pop

Over the weekend, Brian Sims and Bobby Logue garnered further industry opinion on the possible axing of the SIA. Here are some of the impassioned comments now being aired.

Although now retired and no longer an active member of the security community, Bob Doyle – former commercial services director at Skills for Security – keeps a keen eye on developments.

By his own admission, he was “somewhat taken aback” by last week’s reports on SMT Online and that the Home Secretary is considering deregulation of the industry, and wanted to add his thoughts to what has already become a lively debate.

“Before joining Skills for Security I enjoyed a 35-year career at Group 4,” said Doyle. “I well remember from my earliest days with the company the passion with which the late Jorgen Philip-Sorensen argued the case for regulation. Back then, he was one of very few voices advocating some form of licensing, but the logic of his argument was simple and irrefutable and, over the years, many others took up the banner.”

Of course, the subsequent campaign of lobbying and influencing led, eventually, to the Private Security Industry Act 2001 coming into being.

“The basis of JPS’ pro-regulation argument,” suggested Doyle, “was that the security industry is far too important to public safety and the protection of assets to be left to its own devices. The trust placed in the companies and the individuals they employed, and the enormity of the responsibilities they took on, meant that enforceable minimum operating standards had to be applied.”

Case for regulation now stronger than ever

Today, when the sector commonly engages in activities that frequently bring its operatives into direct contact with the public in public areas, and when it undertakes activities that were once the sole preserve of public sector organisations, Doyle argues that the case for regulation is surely stronger than ever.

“I’m sure that JPS would be astonished at the suggestion that advances made since the introduction of the Act could be reversed.”  

Doyle explained: “OK, so neither the Act nor the SIA have delivered a perfect solution. Did anyone believe that they would? There are still gaps and anomalies in the licensing and regulation processes that must be addressed, but what we have now, with all its faults, is better than nothing and the industry should now come together not just to defend the status quo but to use this opportunity that the spotlight on the SIA presents.”

Crucially, Doyle stated: “Just as the politicians were eventually persuaded to create the Act in the first place, so they and the Regulator can be persuaded to improve its workings.”

Doyle feels “the majority of the movers and shakers in the security industry” (and, he suspects, the majority of the people who work in it) believe that the case for regulation is indisputable.

“That said, there are many views on how the system should work. Some would like to see stricter enforcement. Some believe that, far from abolishing the SIA, its remit should be extended to include other businesses involved in delivering security products and services.”

Reduction in beaurocracy

Meantime, some argue that companies rather than employees should be licensed. If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, most would like to see a reduction in bureaucracy.

“The current review of the SIA’s functions presents an opportunity for the industry to debate the whole issue of regulation,” outlined Doyle. “Who should be regulated, how and why? Then you can agree upon a common approach to argue the case for the continued existence of the SIA, perhaps in a slightly different format.”

In conclusion, Doyle told SMT Online and “Trying to broker common ground among the range of opinions and breadth of emotions that surface whenever the subject of licensing is discussed will be no easy task, but it could be vitally important for the future of the industry.”

Official statement from ASIS UK

By way of Mike Hurst – the vice-chairman responsible for strategy – ASIS’ UK’s Chapter 208 has now made an official statement on the Home Office’s plans to review regulation and licensing as delivered by the Regulator.

“It was with surprise that members of the UK Chapter of ASIS International watched the television reports and those published by SMT Online and speculating on plans to scrap the Security Industry Authority (SIA).

“The SIA was established by the Private Security Industry Act 2001, and one assumes would require a similar Act to disestablish the organisation. 

The ASIS statement continues: “In view of the threats to the community from serious and organised crime and global terrorism and the proposed cuts in policing budgets, it’s particularly important that the public can rely on the private security industry.

“At a time when ASIS and other organisations are seeking to advance the level of skills and professionalism within the security sector, this news [concerning the SIA’s possible future] is a potentially worrying development.

In conclusion, ASIS UK Chapter 208 has stated: “The licensing of security officers has placed a financial and administrative burden on the sector and there may be ways of regulation that lessen that burden, but the thought of returning to the unregulated, unlicensed, pre-SIA times is not one that appeals. ASIS UK waits to hear what the Government has to say on the issue.”

Government must think again

The managing director at The Cardinal Group is urging the Government to think again about any intentions it may have to abolish the SIA.

Diane Johnson told SMT Online that the company would lobby the Government to change its mind because the move would be regressive and “an unwelcome return to the bad old days of unlicensed and unregulated security companies”.

The coalition Government’s so-called ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’ is aimed at reducing the national deficit, and could include scrapping the SIA as it has emerged certain ministers believe the security industry has matured enough to police itself.

Johnson argues that, with Government cuts biting deep into the UK’s 43 police forces, the security industry may be required to pick up many additional functions – a development that’s wholly inconsistent with a ‘new era’ of self-regulation.

“The correct vetting and recruiting procedures established by the SIA put the industry on a professional footing,” said Johnson. “If the Government is thinking about abolishing the Regulator, we would return to the bad old days when anyone with a criminal record could join a security firm, or even set one up in the first place.”

Johnson went on to say: “The fact that strict guidelines exist is to give the industry the respectability it deserves and needs. SIA licensing polices the industry and keeps these standards in everyone’s eyeline so that compliance is a mandatory requirement rather than a tick-box exercise.”

No consistency in service quality and staff welfare

In addition, Johnson said: “The SIA is a quango, but it’s largely self-funding so I cannot imagine what kind of savings would be achieved by its abolition.”

Cardinal Security has achieved 115 points in the 2010 Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) audit, beating its score from the previous year in the SIA’s annual benchmarking of the top security companies. In truth, only 10% of the UK’s security companies score above 70 points.

“Without the SIA and all that it currently encompasses, and more importantly the ACS, there would be no consistency in service quality and staff welfare across the industry,” urged Johnson.

“The SIA is independent and works in the industry’s best interests rather than the self-interest of individual companies. In the current climate, self-regulation cannot and will not work as there’s still a need to bring a level of professionalism to the security industry as a whole.”

Concluding her statement, Johnson said: “Currently, there’s an audit trail that clients engaging security companies can monitor. There would never be an incident on a site where an unlicensed officer from an external supplier was deployed. A client knows that, in the case of a complaint for false arrest or worse, there would be no damage to their reputation.”

As things stand, there could be incidents under the Corporate Manslaughter regulations that may leave customers and their security guarding companies exposed if they cannot demonstrate that staff involved in the incident have passed through the necessary levels of vetting and training.

Has the SIA served its purpose?

Robert Evans, the managing director at Professional Security Management, told us: “I agree with those who say that the SIA has now served its purpose. The cost of SIA training and licensing to individuals in such a low paid industry is far from perfect.”

Evans stressed: “What other industry makes its employees pay to work? Regulation was a farce for well-run security companies when it was set-up and still is to this day, particularly when the licensing fees were raised and multiple licensing introduced.”

By way of example, Evans commented: “A security officer acquiring two licences to operate within the security industry would need to fund costs to the approximate value of £960.00. However, the training and licensing costs are free through the Job Centre? Is this really fair?”

Like many industry commentators, Evans believes the standards set by the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) are over and above the SIA’s own standards. “The NSI’s entry schemes of Bronze, Silver and Gold are more than adequate for the future regulation of the security industry. Indeed, the NSI assessed professional security companies prior to the formation of the SIA, albeit setting standards and not issuing licences.”

Evans now feels the SIA has achieved what it was established to do in terms of ridding the industry of ‘cowboy operators’.

“Its responsibilities should now be handed back to the private sector, namely the NSI, whereupon the security sector would be regulated in a professional manner.”

Statement from the NTIPDU to members

Meanwhile, an official statement on the National Training Inspectorate for Professional Dog Users’ (NTIPDU) Internet Home Page reads: “Some individuals in the security industry may of course see this [the possible axing of the SIA] as a good move. However, many others do not wish to see the end of the SIA. It has given the public a sense of trust knowing that all officers are CRB checked and vetted.”

The statement continues: “Regulation and licensing has provided employment for trainers, administrators working for the SIA and Call Centre staff to name just a few.”

Importantly, the NTIPDU comments: “Although dog handlers are not recognised by the SIA, working within its licensed boundaries has raised the profile of the sector, dispelling the idea that we were unregulated, unprofessional amateurs and allowing us to work alongside the police service as its numbers slowly deplete.”

Concluding its views, the NTIPDU said: “If the SIA is virtually self-funding, why not leave it as it stands without taking any backward steps and allowing the criminal element to return to a growing industry?”

Statement from ICM

The Institute of Conflict Management (ICM) feels that the abolition of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) would be a dangerous step. Since its inception, the SIA has brought about much needed change including training and regulation to the security industry.

It is now much more difficult for the criminal and undesirable security contractors and individuals to operate in the security sector and to abolish the SIA would undermine the positive influences already achieved. The minimum training standards that have been introduced have ensured that ALL those working in the security industry have at least received some basic training, something that was sadly lacking before in some areas or was deliberately overlooked by some less conscientious security contractors. Against a backdrop of imminent cuts in policing, the security sector is set to grow so there is every need for the industry to be regulated effectively. The ICM feels that the SIA is a ‘quango’ that should avoid the axe, and does not want to see the security industry go back to the bad old days.