The SIA’s Future: the Home Office, SIA and Security Alliance statements

The Home Office, the SIA and The Security Alliance have issued exclusive statements to SMT Online and following yesterday morning’s axing of the SIA. Brian Sims and Bobby Logue outline their contents.

At 9.35 am yesterday morning (and as exclusively reported at the time on SMT Online), the Security Industry Authority (SIA) fell under the Coalition Government’s axe as part of the much-debated Austerity 2010 public spending cuts.

As expected, Francis Maude – Minister for the Cabinet Office – summarised plans to substantially reform a large number of public bodies across Government (a reform dubbed by many to be the ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’, and more of which anon).

Next to the SIA’s inclusion on the official Government ‘hit list’, the wording reads: ‘No longer an NDPB: phased transition to new regulatory regime’.

In plain English rather than political jargon, this means our sector’s Regulator is soon to be no more (at least as far as its present form and functions as a Non-Departmental Public Body or ‘quango’ are concerned).

Towards the end of the business day, and following a joint request for an official statement on the matter, SMT Online and were duly sent a communication from the Home Office concerning this monumental development that’s pivotal to the entire future of the private security sector.

The Home Office statement on the Regulator

Here’s what the Home Office statement says in full…

“The Government is committed to making substantial reforms to its public bodies, increasing accountability and reducing their number and cost.
“As part of the Public Bodies Review, the SIA was considered against the Cabinet Office’s tests of retention. We concluded 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 make a phased transition to a new regulatory regime.
“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.

“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 such time that a new regulatory regime is in place.

“Until the new regulatory regime is in place, the current law will continue to apply. It will remain mandatory for any person undertaking licensable activities to hold and display a valid SIA licence, and it will remain a criminal offence to work without a licence.

“The SIA and other agencies will continue to enforce these offences.”

Official response from the Regulator

Again on an exclusive basis, the SIA has communicated with SMT Online and to put across the official view from 90 High Holborn. Here’s the statement issued to us by Baroness Ruth Henig…

“At our conference in June, 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 yesterday 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 in 2014.

“They have also pointed out the very significant investment that the Government and the industry has 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, the Government and other stakeholders in taking forward the new arrangements.”

What does The Security Alliance have to say?
The Security Alliance has cautiously welcomed the decision of the Government to undertake a phased transition of the SIA to a new regulatory regime. This is its official statement…

“The Security Alliance was initiated to provide all the key security industry bodies with a forum wherein all members can formulate a unified response to the challenges posed by future regulation.

“Initial membership of The Security Alliance includes the British Security Industry Association, the UK Chapter of ASIS, The Security Institute, Skills for Security and The Worshipful Company of Security Professionals.
“The Security Alliance believes that the transition will be successful if there is proper and meaningful consultation with the security industry, and the end result is consistent with the regulatory blueprint set out by the chairman of the SIA, Baroness Ruth Henig, at the SIA’s annual Stakeholder Conference last June.

“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.

“The Security Alliance asks that it be given time to engage with all key stakeholders – including the SIA – in establishing a framework that, over time, will provide adequate safeguards for the public and appropriate reassurance to the purchasers of security services.

“The significant improvement in standards and behaviour within our industry over the last decade could not have been achieved without the valuable oversight of the SIA. Its contribution to the development and professionalisation of our industry must be recognised.”

View from the National Security Inspectorate

National Security Inspectorate (NSI) chief executive Andrew White provided SMT Online with a considered appraisal relating to the inclusion of the SIA in yesterday’s announcement on the future of NDPBs (aka quangos).

“While it does appear that the SIA will be abolished, it’s far less clear what the Government intends with regard to a ‘phased transition to a new regulatory regime’. The industry is now in a state of limbo, while potential new security officers and companies are wondering whether they should continue to apply for licences and Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) membership respectively.”

White continued: “Clearly, we still await the fine detail. However, to announce the demise of the SIA prior to consultation on the shape of the new regulatory regime is hardly the best way to go about implementing change.”
The NSI’s leader was keen to emphasise the plus-points of SIA regulation to date. “The impact the SIA has made since its establishment should not be underestimated,” he urged.

“Licensing has played a key role in raising standards, probity and the standing of those employed in the sector. For the benefit of the industry, end users and the safety of the public at large, it’s paramount that the industry uses the progress made to date as a springboard to a new regulatory regime.”

Where does White feel the NSI stands just now? “Until we’re informed to the contrary, the NSI will continue to inspect to the SIA’s ACS scheme,” he stressed. “We acknowledge, however, that yesterday’s news marks a turbulent period and reinforces the merits of utilising NSI schemes.”

By opting for NSI Gold with passporting to ACS, White explained that any security company choosing this route is future-roofed against the consequences of the possible demise of the ACS. 

“The NSI continues to offer robust inspections to both ACS and sector standards,” White said in conclusion. “We’re happy to discuss our range of solutions with both existing and potential approved companies to ensure we deliver a package that complements the internal strategy of each individual security company.”

Setting what’s happening in context

Central to the Government’s overhaul of public sector operations is the drive towards radically enhanced accountability and transparency across that socio-economic space.

According to the No10 website, the reform process outlined by Francis Maude covers all of Her Majesty’s Government’s NDPBs (click through to the PDF attachment on the right hand panel of this page for the full list), as well as other bodies – such as some non-ministerial departments and public corporations – will help to “reinvigorate the public’s trust in democracy” and “ensure the Government operates in a more efficient and business-like way”.

In total, the Government proposes to reform 481 bodies. Of these, 192 will cease to be public bodies and their functions will either be brought back into Government, devolved to local Government, moved out of Government or abolished altogether.
On the Cabinet Office’s website, Maude said that this process represents the restoration of political accountability for decisions which affect peoples’ lives and the way in which taxpayers’ money is spent (a position restated by universities minister David Willetts on last night’s Question Time).
“We know that, for a long time now, there has been a huge hunger for change,” stated Maude. “People have been fed up with the old way of doing business where the ministers they voted for could often avoid taking responsibility for difficult and tough decisions by creating or hiding behind one of these quangos.” 
Maude went on to state: “This announcement means that many important and essential functions will be brought back into departments. In turn, the line of accountability will run right up to the very top where it always should have been.”
Mergers and substantial reform
In reality, the reform process is also underpinned by the Government announcing proposals to merge 118 bodies down to 57, and to substantially change a further 171.
Maude said: “In many cases, the proposals will ensure we preserve the quality of vital services while at the same time allowing them to become more efficient and, where appropriate, giving more power to the front line professionals who know those services best.”

A proportion of public bodies will be retained and “remain at arm’s length from Government” (although work will continue to ensure that they become more open, accountable and efficient). 

All of the retained bodies will have met one of the three tests: performing a technical function, requiring political impartiality and needing to act independently to establish facts.
News of some other bodies affected (or not, as the case may be) by the Government’s wide-reaching proposals includes retentions for the Security Vetting Appeals Panel, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Civil Nuclear Police Authority is also retained, so too UKTI.

However, the Security Commission is no longer a NDPB. Neither is the Football Licensing Authority, whose responsibilities will now be transferred elsewhere. The National Policing Improvement Agency is also set for change.

Interestingly, the Crown Prosecution Service is to be merged with another body as part of wide-ranging criminal justice reforms.

Explanation from the Cabinet Office
“There are, of course, organisations that will remain, although it’s unlikely that any will be completely unchanged,” stressed Maude. “This is because we recognise that some of these bodies do hugely important and essential work that has to be carried out at arm’s length from Government, especially when political impartiality, independence or technical expertise is required.”
Maude is adamant those organisations remaining “will not be allowed to go back to the old way of working”. 

As part of the reforms, the Government will also be introducing new transparency requirements, a governance framework and a review process to ensure there’s “a robust and regular challenge of the continuing need for all the public bodies that remain.”

Maude added: “While today’s changes will help us move quickly to a new era of accountability in Government, we recognise there will be significant changes for many staff who have done an enormous amount of excellent work for their organisations. We also want to recognise the public service given by members of Boards and Committees.”

On that basis, the Government will continue to do all it can to work with their chief executives, chairman and general management teams to ensure any change is conducted as fairly and as smoothly as possible.
The Government now plans to introduce a Public Bodies Bill into Parliament.  This will help enable proposals to be rapidly implemented where statutory changes are required.

Other legislation to be introduced in this session of Parliament will also enable some specific changes. All final decisions and implementation will be subject to the much-discussed and debated spending review and necessary legislation.