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June 2015: Bill Butler

by Mark Rowe

I thought it was time to catch up with Bill Butler [outgoing Security Industry Authority chief executive] to get the low down on what he intended to do … retire or re-direct his career? We met up at ‘Bill’s Restaurant’ in London … seriously, that is the name of the restaurant. Walking into the eaterie I initially thought that the reason Bill was retiring from the security profession was because he had gone into the catering business! We had a laugh about it and it made for a very relaxed lunch. I wanted to know more about what he was going to do outside the security profession but Bill still wanted to discuss all matters SIA more than anything else. He was just as enthusiastic for the SIA as he was in 2012 when I last interviewed him.

It was around the time that the Home Office had published a consultation document, ‘Consultation on a Future Regulatory Regime for the Private Security Industry’. The document proposed a regime in which individuals would continue to be licensed but the primary focus of the regulator would shift to a system of business regulation. Having prepared the SIA for all the recent changes particularly since 2010 I asked Butler what he thought he had achieved. He said: “Let’s start with what I think I did not achieve. My belief since I arrived at the SIA was that regulation had to be focused on businesses. Effective regulation needs to be focused on businesses with individuals as a sub-set of that. At the heart of the way the industry works is the business. This is an industry where the standards are set by the business and individuals are employed and then deployed into the various client sites that are arranged by the business. So we can’t get proper business standards without business licensing. We can’t get at organised crime gangs controlling security related business … without proper business licensing. Also we have to take into account changes in policing and the risks around anti-terrorism. The Government of course is committed to bringing in business licensing in the new Parliament and the only legislation we were able to get through in the last one was that wheel clampers are no longer permitted in England and Wales.” We went on to discuss the history of the SIA and the changes within it and what the positive and early on negative influence on the private security industry as a whole had been … not just the guarding sector.

Butler said: “We have spent a lot more time engaging with the industry but you can’t talk to everyone. You can’t talk to 4,000 individual businesses but we have created that dialogue. The corporate plan that we’ve got in place for the next three years still focuses on the approach to businesses. e have reinforced that really … we have sorted out the licensing system. When I first arrived the only thing that anyone wanted to talk to me about was how long it takes to get a license … no one’s bothered about that any more. We’ve modernised the licensing system and we still have work to do in that area. For instance you can now walk into the Post Office and have your documents processed in the same way you can with your passport or driving license. You no longer have to post us your passport and sensitive personal data in order to get an SIA license. We work far more effectively with businesses now. We focused our prosecutions very clearly on bad people and bad businesses, if you look on our website there is a procession of prosecutions now against businesses … you won’t find many people having been prosecuted for not having their badge showing. When I arrived, for instance we had a lot of people wandering around the country – checking badges … Colwyn Bay was the last straw for me. Although we have moved on from that type of work we have not lost track of total compliance but our check last year showed 98 per cent compliance. That does not mean that there aren’t people hiding around the back or that there are people that should have a badge and do not have a badge, or in fact fraudulent badges, but it does mean that the incidence of that type of scenario cannot be very high. The regulator should be the last resort in an effective industry. The standards we are insisting upon in terms of ethical behaviour and competence, should be so far below what the companies are operating to that the regulator becomes increasingly irrelevant. The regulator should be there and robust but business should be conducted without recourse to the regulator. The SIA world divides into three crude groups – if you split the world into the 80-20, you get the majority who get their license and there is no problem. Of the remaining 20 per cent we have 80pc of them who are trying to do the right thing and for whatever reason can’t get their paperwork in order for whatever reason and they just need help. The remaining 20pc of that group, which equates to roughly four to five per cent of the overall population are the bad people and that’s who we should be going after. We have been trying to go after them and our intelligence has helped us a lot. That is where we spend our time. We are quite small but we have had a huge impact in Scotland, the North West and London. We actually had our first custodial sentence for breaches of the Private Security Industry Act – the ‘Blue Feather Case’.”

Blue Feather
Bill went on to explain that Anthony Okoh and Victor Chiazor, ran the security company Blue Feather Guarding Ltd without the necessary SIA licences. The pair also employed unlicensed individuals without the right to work in the UK. They were found guilty of assisting unlawful immigration and deploying unlicensed security guards. He explained the good relationship the SIA now have with various agency partners and when the SIA received intelligence about Blue Feather in summer 2012, they shared this with the Home Office which ultimately led to conviction.

Thousands refused
Butler continued: “We are still working against criminal businesses by identifying individuals and stepping the game up on ACS [approved contractor scheme] and continuing to do so. There are well over 50,000 people now as individuals that do not have a licence because we have either refused them one because they are not suitable or taken one off them because they are not fit and proper. We are far more joined-up now as far as ACS is concerned and our inter-relationships with other agencies. People who are members of it have to be absolutely certain that the quality standards are being maintained. There are cases where we are working with our partners engaged in the government’s Serious and Organised Crime Strategy in the relentless disruption of organised criminal activity. We want to send a very strong message to business about the commitment of the SIA and other enforcements partners in tackling serious crime. We have stopped at least two companies getting contracts in the millions and now those contracts have become available for legitimate business. The process works … we do what it says on the tin. We are working on a new system that digitises the process and getting rid of paper all together. This will be launched later this year. As with all IT systems it will work first go … I am sure.”

Enforcement re-focus
He then said: “I am disappointed that I did not get that finished before I go … but it is a big improvement. From an enforcement point of view we have re-focused our effort. We have an intelligence based system dependent on information received. One of the things that we still have to work on is that people assume that we know where things are going wrong. I sit in meetings and people running businesses say: ‘You know where things are going wrong?’ Well we don’t! Even if we did know about it we still need evidence. So where people know that intimidation is taking place or poor standards exist and people are being paid ridiculously low rates … we need to know. This can be done through our website or anonymously through Crimestoppers. We take action and we now have a great working relationship with our inter-agency partners resulting in conviction. Looking back I am very pleased with what we have accomplished including the reduction in the licensing fee in 2012; in real terms it is the lowest it has ever been.” Bill was interrupted as our waiter presented my favourite desert, ice cream and coffee. I burst out laughing when I saw the wafer… how cool. We started to talk about women in security and at length why only 9pc of women are employed in the market; and why that just isn’t enough for Butler. The SIA have a survey out to ascertain why more women are not attracted to the security industry via a ‘diversity and equality’ survey on their website. Bill went on: “One of the points that every other sector has found is that when you bring women into the workforce it makes you question the basic working practices. I was informed that women would not go out on a building site and spend 12 hours on their own where there was no toilet facilities. I replied, ‘nor should anybody’. That is not a gender thing; that is just very poor working practice.”

Another concern of Butler’s was violence towards security staff and the disrespect that goes with that type of behaviour. He made it quite clear that this should not be tolerated under any circumstances and more has to be done in that area. He was ardent regarding his uneasiness at how people just going about their daily work are being treated, whether they are front-line officers, door supervisors or night security guards; they deserve respect. We also discussed the lack of data connected with the private security industry from an injury perspective. Butler said: “The BSIA have a group on health and safety and we are involved with that as well as talking to the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] but no one has reliable figures. Again we have a massive survey going on in this area and for the first time we will actually have a framework which will inform us of what people put up with in relation to their daily work. Until I came to work in this sector I had never been anywhere that was so data-light. In the gambling sector everyone knows the numbers, in the health sector everyone knows the numbers. When I came here and asked ‘how many’ … nobody knew. Once we have the data what it will show will be possibly something at national scandal level. When we did some work in 2010 we were showing rates of violence against guards, not against door supervisors but guards and the figures were in excess of 50pc that showed guards had been physically attacked … if you add the abuse it is more like 100pc. When you go into a structure such as a hospital, railways or on the buses you see signs reading ‘we will not tolerate abuse or violence towards our staff’.” We talked further about this emotive subject and Butler pointed out that same duty of care should be shown to the private security officers, door supervisors and such. There are some companies already addressing this such as Sodexo Security. They have a ‘Quality of Life’ initiative that has made a corporate commitment to respecting staff and also have a zero policy approach to any violence in the workplace. We agreed that it was time to culturise all companies into agreeing to adopt the same approach. We agreed that while sections of the wider world of security are emerging as a respected profession we cannot forget, or accept, people on the front line being treated in a disrespectful manner. Butler is passionate about the industry and the people in it.

He said: “There are people living on a minimum wage with poor levels of support and working in very poor conditions who do amazing things. They save people’s lives and do things that are extremely brave. People finding themselves in violent situations one minute and doing small acts of kindness, like giving money to young people for their bus fare home the next … not publicised, not recognised. There are some really good people working as security officers. We lose track that every Friday and Saturday night and all through the week millions of people go out, and lots of them drink too much and quite a few of them take substances that they shouldn’t do … that leads to a massive section of tension. Yet, most of those people return home safe due to the efforts of both private and public security officers. I have really enjoyed getting out and meeting and talking to the people that actually do the job. I don’t think a lot of times they are recognised for just what a great job they are doing.” I can’t argue with that. I asked Bill what he has was most proud of in his time in security. He said: “I am very proud to have done this job and the massive support from the industry. I am also proud of the fact that I am a CSyP [Chartered Security Professional]. I went out and did the exams, applied for and was admitted as a CSyP. It is one of the things I am most proud of in terms of my time here. This is not an honorary qualification and nobody gave it to me. I spent a year doing study, and wrote essays for the first time since 1980. I went through the interview process and that is how I got the qualification and that’s how the future lies in a properly respected professional core. Not people wandering around saying that they are professionals. Professionals are examined they are monitored and they maintain continual professional development (CPD) status.” I congratulated him on his achievement and asked what he was going to do next. He laughed, repeated the question, and said: “I was recently appointed a non-executive director on the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. I want to carry on doing work within and around the security industry. I want to do things that I enjoy doing with people I enjoy working with … I have been lucky in that respect. On a personal level I want to do the next stage in my sailing qualification … I am doing my Yacht Master theory.” I asked about his most recent thespian endeavours. Bill reached for his phone to produce pictures of his latest performance in The Pitman Painters at the Criterion in Coventry. He also directed a translation of Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ last year … is there no end to this man’s talents.

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