Using The Approved Contractors Scheme (ACS) To Help Choose A Security Provider – An Inside View

The Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) is a hugely valuable tool for buyers, if used wisely and not in isolation believes Stuart Lowden, the Chairman of the British Security Industry Association and Managing Director of Wilson James Ltd. “Whilst the SIA would claim it to be a scheme that ensures good practice, I would argue that it is more a benchmark of adequate practice and should give buyers comfort that acceptable standards will be delivered. In the very simplest terms, those buyers selecting companies who are not ACS need to do extensive research to assure themselves that their proposed contractors operate to acceptable standards.ACS removes this burden by giving an SIA ‘stamp of approval’ And for those seeking a higher level of service provision, ACS does give the enlightened buyer, by asking the right questions, an easy way to differentiate between the good and the merely adequate..”

In this article Stuart Lowden sets out his thoughts on how buyers can use the ACS as an effective tool.

The Origins of ACT

After nearly 40 years of lobbying, the Government of the day finally bowed to increasing pressure and passed The Private Security Industry Act 2001. In addition to licensing individuals to operate within the security guarding sector, the Act required the new Regulator, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) to establish a “system of inspection for providers of security services, under which those organisations who satisfactorily meet the agreed standards may be registered as approved, and may advertise themselves as such”. The Approved Contractor Scheme came into being at the same time as compulsory licensing for security officers, in March 2006.

How are the Benefits of ACS Sold to the Buyers

In the words of the SIA, Approved contractors are demonstrably committed to customer service and the compulsory licensing of their staff. This means their customers can rest assured that every private security operative deployed on their premises will be working within the law (unless we have withdrawn the company’s authority to deploy staff whose licence applications are pending, which can be checked via the public Register of Approved Contractors)’.

Key advantages to buyers are defined as being;

·          Continuity of Service

·          Best Practice and Continuity of Quality

·          Clear Customer  Focus and Increased Flexibility

·          Leadership and Innovation

These are explored in greater detail on the ACS section of the SIA’s website

Without question the ability to deploy staff whose applications for licence are still pending is a huge benefit and considerably assist security companies in maintaining continuity of service. But how valid are the claims that ACS approved companies are genuinely better, in terms of quality, customer focus and leadership? It needs a deeper investigation into the way the scheme operates to find out.

ACS Scoring and Inspection

The cornerstone of ACS is the Self Assessment Workbook and it’s independent inspection regime, monitored closely by the SIA. Full details are available on the SIA website but in the broadest terms the scoring system works as follows. There are 89 workbook indicators spread across 9 key categories of compliance



Commercial Relationship Management





Corporate Social Responsibility


Over two thirds of the workbook indicators are likely to be met or exceeded if companies are already complying to existing standards ie ISO 9000, BS7499, BS7858, however there are a significant number that are breaking new ground, particularly in the areas of CSR, Leadership and Benchmarking. The 89 indicators can be simply met (effectively a pass in that category) or exceeded by degrees. So for example, let us look at a key indicator, a company’s approach to welfare and benefits, indicator 6.3.4 (Supplied courtesy of the SIA);

6.3 An SIA Approved Contractor can demonstrate that its people are provided with appropriate benefits and welfare arrangements.

6.3.4 An approach to provision of welfare and benefits is in place.

Required Achievement Level
The welfare and benefits offered

by the organisation meet the legal requirements.

All aspects of the previous

column plus:

Appropriate uniforms are supplied and the organisation ensures they are cleaned and renewed.

Necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided free of charge.

All employees are made aware of the welfare and other benefits package.

All employees have regular contact with a supervisor or manager who can address any welfare concerns.

All aspects of the previous

column plus:

The welfare and benefits offered by the organisation exceed the legal requirements and include such things as:

• compassionate leave arrangements

• self certification for periods of sickness up to seven days

• payment of training required to obtain an SIA licence

• days spent on the training required for an SIA licence are paid All employees are made aware of the welfare and other benefits package.

All aspects of the previous

column plus:

The welfare and benefits package also includes:

• payment of the SIA licence application fee

• personal accident cover

• sufficient legal cover

• counselling service from trained professionals after suffering trauma.

The way the scoring system works, the Required Level earns the base mark of zero, columns to the right of the required level earn +1 and +2 respectively. Anything to the left of the required level constitutes a fail in that category. ACS companies are not allowed to fail in any of the 89 categories. Some categories offer greater opportunity to exceed the required level, some less, but in total there is the opportunity to exceed the base level by 157 marks.

How the Industry Scores

The following diagram shows a breakdown of the scoring of the 611 Approved Contractors as at 31st March 2009

What is very interesting is how many companies are complying by a very low margin, doing enough to pass but not a great deal more. By contrast, there are at least 60 companies operating well above basic requirements, exceeding the target by over 71 marks, and of these there is a sizeable minority with scores exceeding 100 marks.

Using the Scoring System to Select a Contractor

The scoring system is a guide to a company’s general professionalism and to the robustness of its processes. If you wish to use the ACS to help with selecting a contractor you would be advised to look closely at where the higher marks have been ‘earned’. Are they in the areas that matter to you? By all means ask for a copy of the latest SIA inspection; you will learn a lot about a prospective supplier from the report.  The scheme is also a very useful tool with which to define a buyer’s priorities. For example, which is more important to you, that a company invests in the training and development of its people or that it has a documented benchmarking scheme to measure the perception of the public of its service. Both are important in their own way, both are capable of earning a potential higher score, but which truly matters to you and your business?