The SIA’s Future: how the private security industry was nearly ‘quangoed’

Brian Sims and Bobby Logue offer their latest response in relation to the Government’s decision on the future of the Security Industry Authority.

As the Editors of SMT Online and, we believe the UK’s regulated security industry was only hours away from being deregulated until a last-minute reprieve as a result of appeals to Government ministers, MPs and comments made in the trade press.

Information received from sources within the Government suggests that the decision was changed on the evening before the day of the announcement on the fate of the Security Industry Authority (SIA).

From our perspective, we believe the security industry demonstrated great professionalism and maturity as it spoke with almost one voice in convincing the Government that the rumoured decision to abolish the SIA was flawed.

This theory is corroborated by the fact that SMT Online and initially received a press release from the Home Office which read as though regulation would be scrapped. This statement was later changed to the current status of the SIA, which is now in “a phased transition to a new regulatory regime”.

We believe that the coalition Government should be praised for listening to the industry and then allowing those concerned the time and space to develop a robust roadmap on which the future of the licensable sector could be based.

Timeline: what has happened to date…

The security industry was first made aware of the possibility that the SIA would be abolished when the contents of a leaked Government document was made public on a BBC six o’clock news bulletin.

“The Home Office is preparing to scrap the body which regulates bouncers and other security workers across the UK. The Security Industry Authority has been placed under the axe as part of a wider plan to cut the number and cost of public bodies.”

“Abolishing the SIA will not save taxpayers money because it’s largely self-financing, but a Home Office document seen by the BBC suggests the move would save security firms money and contribute to ‘reducing burdensome regulation’.”

“The document suggests the industry has matured enough to police itself. A Home Office spokesperson said no final decision had been made, but the department expected to ‘make an announcement in due course’.”

While the report suggested that the SIA was to be abolished, it did not say the industry would be deregulated.

Not surprisingly, the response from the security industry was spontaneous and instant. Industry leaders joined forces in a unanimous plea to the Government: “We spent years fighting for regulation and are now moving into the next phase of discussing a ‘lighter touch’ approach to licensing.”

Suddenly, all the prior negatives about regulation of the private security industry in the chat rooms on networking sites (among them LinkedIn) were replaced with cries of: “We cannot let this happen”.

There was a belief in the industry that while some sectors and businesses within the licensable security industry had indeed matured, there were large tranches of the industry simply not ready for self-regulation.

Calling on the sector’s key decision-makers

SMT Online and called on the key industry bodies to jointly write to the Home Secretary asking for time and space to work with the SIA in deciding the best way forward.

Organisations including the British Security Industry Association, the International Professional Security Association, The Security Institute and the UK Chapter of ASIS were quick out of the blocks – some of them with comments to the trade press, others with letters to the Home Secretary.

An extract from one of those letters is as follows: “There can be no doubt that, since the introduction of regulation, there has been a notable reduction in the extent of criminal involvement and influences in the private security sector.

“This has enabled increased confidence and trust in the private security sector on the part of the police and the British public in general.”

“Our understanding is that it has been cost neutral and, if this is not the case, it can be.”

“The tens of thousands of licensed private security officers and other personnel play a key role in crime prevention and in the wider security of our country, often working alongside or in co-operation with the police.”

“In the face of the continuing threat of terrorism, and with the 2012 Olympic Games looming large on the horizon, the abolition of the Regulator would present an increase in risk to the security of the United Kingdom.”

“We would urge that any contemplated changes to the existence or status of the SIA be placed on hold, pending a period of consultation with the private security industry. We would be happy to assist during that consultation.”

This letter was co-signed on behalf of The Security Institute by its chairman, Mike Bluestone, and the President Lord Alex Carlile.

Since 2005, of course, Lord Carlile has acted as the independent reviewer of the British anti-terrorist laws.

Formation of The Security Alliance

What occurred next was the coming together of key players in the security industry: the British Security Industry Association, the UK Chapter of ASIS, The Security Institute, Skills for Security and The Worshipful Company of Security Professionals to form The Security Alliance.

On Wednesday 13 October, The Security Alliance sent a high impact letter titled “Careful consideration is essential in deciding the SIA’s future, The Security Alliance tells Theresa May,”. This communication included the following comments:
“Regulation in the future could take many forms, not least that of ‘lighter touch’ regulation signalled by the SIA’s chairman, Baroness Ruth Henig, earlier this year at the Regulator’s annual Stakeholder Conference.”

“The Security Alliance has already responded positively to this initiative, and pledged the industry’s support in principle for such a path. Continued policing and enforcement by the SIA has also been mooted among the industry, and The Security Alliance feels that the SIA would be best placed to undertake this since independent oversight is key to maintaining public confidence in the private security industry.”

“As an industry-wide alliance, we stand ready to work alongside the Home Office to develop the most suitable framework for addressing the needs of Government, the public and the private security industry, and look forward to working with Government to shape our industry’s future, if and when an announcement regarding the SIA is made,” commented the BSIA’s CEO James Kelly on behalf of The Security Alliance.”

Missive from the Cabinet Office

On Thursday 14 October, the Cabinet Office released a document which announced that the status of the SIA was to be changed from ‘No longer a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB): phased transition to a new regulatory regime’.

SMT Online and requested a statement from the Home Office. The statement sent read as follows:

“The Government is committed to making substantial reforms to its public bodies, increasing accountability and reducing their number and cost.”

“The SIA was considered against the Cabinet Office’s tests of retention as part of the Public Bodies Review. We concluded that there was no evidence that the functions of the SIA needed to be performed by a public body, and that it did not meet the three tests of performing a technical function, impartiality and establishing facts transparently.”
“The private security industry has matured in the six years since SIA regulation began in England and Wales.”

“We believe the time is now right to give the private security industry the responsibility for regulating itself.”

“We propose that employers use the CRB disclosure service to support their own recruitment decisions, in the same way as the employers of other professions such as teaching and nursing. ”
“Ministers from the Scotland and Northern Ireland Governments have been consulted. They want to ensure that regulation of the private security industry continues in their countries. Exactly how this will work is a policy decision for the devolved administrations to make.”

“We will work with them to ensure that transitional arrangements continue to operate until a new regulatory regime can be put in place.”

Part of the statement above (in bold italics) was incompatible with the earlier announcement by the Cabinet Office. On that basis, we asked the Home Office for the reasons why this had occurred.

Second response from the Home Office

We were then advised by the Home Office: “Please don’t use those lines – we’re clearing something right now and will be able to issue it soon.”
Later that afternoon we received a second response from the Home office which said: “The Government is committed to making substantial reforms to its public bodies, increasing accountability and reducing their number and cost.

“The SIA was considered against the Cabinet Office’s tests of retention as part of the Public Bodies Review. We concluded that there was no evidence that the functions of the SIA needed to be performed by a public body, and that it did not meet the three tests of performing a technical function, impartiality and establishing facts transparently.”

On Friday 16 October we then received a statement from Baroness Ruth Henig, the chairman of the SIA, which clarified the position.

“At our conference in June,” said the Baroness, “I outlined the SIA’s blueprint for the next stage of regulation for the private security industry.

“Our plan is to work with what is a maturing industry to achieve a steady reduction of the regulatory burden, empowering the industry to take greater control within a business registration scheme and leaving the SIA to focus on serious criminality and compliance issues. This plan received significant backing from all parts of the industry.”

“I strongly believe that this joint approach would be an effective way forward for the industry, and could provide a consistent platform for continued regulation throughout the UK.”

“The Government’s announcement today that the SIA’s work should be subject to a ‘Phased transition to a new regulatory regime’ allows us to work with the industry to take forward these proposals, and ensure that public safety is not threatened by significant non-compliance issues in the immediate future.”

“I welcome the debate that has been taking place across the industry on the future of regulation.”

“The private security industry and senior industry figures have raised significant fears for public safety if the industry is deregulated, or if responsibility for regulation is transferred too soon. This will be all the greater because of the major need for private security in the run-up to the Olympic Games in 2012 and the Commonwealth Games of 2014.”

“They have also pointed out the very significant investment that the Government and the industry have made to establish the current, effective system for regulation.”

“Our view is that new arrangements must build on this investment to avoid further unnecessary cost for the industry and those working in it.”

“We look forward to working with the industry, Government and other stakeholders in taking forward the new arrangements.”

The Security Alliance responds to the SIA

The Security Alliance’s immediate response was as follows:

“The Security Alliance has cautiously welcomed the decision of the Government to undertake a phased transition of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) to a new regulatory regime.”

“The Security Alliance believes that the transition will be successful if there is proper and meaningful consultation with the security industry, and it is consistent with the regulatory blueprint as set out by the chairman of the SIA, Baroness Henig, earlier this year.

“The proposed new strategic direction for the SIA includes a move to lighter touch regulation and increased partnership with private industry. The Security Alliance has confirmed that it supports this initiative.”