Case Studies

On reform of Britain

by Mark Rowe

Nick Aldworth has spoken to many security industry audiences, about the Protect Duty – more popularly known as Martyn’s Law – that he is helping Figen Murray, the bereaved mother of Martyn Hett, one of those who died in the Manchester Arena bombing of May 2017, to bring in.

In his talks recently a new note has crept in, of more general importance than the Duty, important though it is to the security industry – the most important change since the Security Industry Authority (SIA) came in, in the mid-2000s – and to society generally, as the law would place a responsibility on hundreds of thousands of venues and sites to take security measures to counter terrorism, for the safety of the public. Arguably, that’s already covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, or would only require a tweak to that law; that so little is said in this context about the health and safety law and HSE inspection regime already in place for decades is part of the malaise around Britain; it has no lack of laws and regulations – too many, some have argued, why else Brexit? – only a shortcoming in their application; in human will.

That’s by the by. Mr Aldworth’s new note is that of a campaigner on the verge of success. In December, as featured in the April print edition of Professional Security Magazine, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rang Figen Murray, as part of the official choreographing of the announcement that the PM and Home Secretary Suella Braverman backed the Duty. When will it come in? Mr Sunak could not say when Figen asked; an honest admission.

In his recent talks Mr Aldworth, a former senior counter-terror cop, sets out the likely timetable. A bill is due to go to Parliament shortly; the Home Affairs Select Committee will then take oral evidence and scrutinise it, in sessions in Parliament in May and June. The Government would then consider the committee’s views in the summer, and (subject to parliamentary time; other departments than the Home Office want their own laws passed, and the Home Office has other laws it wants to push also), the formal law would go through Parliament in the fourth session. Figen has said that she hoped for the law as a Christmas present; it looks like it would be enacted (depending on how much MPs and peers query it; proposed laws around online safety and data protection have been held up for many months) in the first quarter of 2024. If that timetable slips (and it is slipping already), it would move ever closer to the cut-off of the likely autumn 2024 next general election.

But, the campaign for Martyn’s Law has momentum, and is well on the way to success; and that is Mr Aldworth’s new note. How have they done it? How to learn from their example – given all the lacks around private security, such as the abolishing of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner and the likely fading into nothing of all its work of ten years, including certification to its code of practice, and ‘secure by default’ product certification, without so much as a word of thanks from anyone for the volunteer work by public-spirited industry people?

Mr Aldworth has spoken frankly of the political campaigning as ‘a really lonely business’; generously, he has said, ‘honestly, I would have given up 1000 times’, were it not for Figen. He has likened the campaign to herding cats, and pushing water uphill; that sense that no matter how much you put it, you’re never done, and any progress can slip through your fingers.

That very feeling is part of the necessary equipment for their campaign; to never take anything (the interest of the media, the agreement of politicians to do something) for granted.

The obstacles that Mr Aldworth hinted at – not necessarily people with ill will, but sheer inertia – is familiar to anyone who has tried to pay for a memorial bench, or for a statue, or a plaque. In a place like Parliament, part of the skill is knowing the rules, spoken and formal, and informal and unspoken, which may appear to be there to block anything that doesn’t suit those in charge, and to wave through whatever does suit. In business, it’s always budget, or that the cause so important to you doesn’t interest someone with a budget to lift a finger.

In his book Imperial Spain 1469-1716 the historian JH Elliott charted how Spain became the greatest, richest empire Europe had ever seen; and declined to despised obscurity. Around the early 1600s, some in Spain got an uneasy sense that all around them was declining. They were the arbitristas (projectors), ‘desperately attempting to discover at what point reality had been exchanged for illusion’. The catch; those arbitristas who wrote down their ideas for reform were without power; and those in power did not want to reform in case the change was for the worse (for them). Or they had no ideas at all.

Is Britain in the equivalent position to Spain then, except with a wetter climate? Prof Elliott spoke of Spain’s ‘orgy of national introspection’. The Manchester Arena Inquiry drew out failures in all three emergency services, site security and MI5. The Casey review of last month pointed out failures in the Metropolitan Police. Other reports have done the same to the fire service, and Border Force. Yet consider that the apparently telling intervention towards the Protect Duty was letters by the leading police of 2017 and former Home Secretaries, warning ministers in power now that if they don’t bring in the Duty, and there’s another spate of terror attacks as in 2017, they will have to answer the question; why didn’t you bring in the law when you could? Consider that that arm-twist was by police and past politicians, that had no input from security management, the industry that will have to actually carry out the Duty (and who are the men and women who will really be held responsible for any shortcoming, and who regardless will live with it, when they wake, and look in the mirror when brush-ing their teeth, the same as those who worked in 2017 live with those past acts of terror).

When Mr Aldworth recently spoke to a security audience, someone asked if there would be government money for complying with the Duty. His answer in a word was no. The money will have to come from somewhere for risk assessments, training courses, and so on, because even if you use a risk assessment template provided by the NPSA, the cost is in hiring a consultant or an in-house manager doing the work; ACT training online may be free, but if a security officer takes it in work time, someone must cover for them. Unless you expect staff to do the training in their own time?

The decline of Spain in the 1600s was about the state having less money to meet outlays; but their crisis was only partly about money. To return to JH Elliott; too many in authority prefer illusion (Britain as world-leading, as Boris Johnson and his ministers were so fond of doing, that made them look good) to reality (is anybody saying Britain’s police are world leaders in anything?).

Britain is world-leading in setting up long and expensive inquiries so that lawyers (well-paid, let’s hope) set out the country’s failings; Britain is not so good at doing something about it.

A related flaw in Britain is the hoarding of facts. Everybody does it; in business, for competitive ad-vantage. In government departments, it’s habitual. For the Protect Duty first to be drawn up sensibly, and then to work, it needs facts, most basically about how many ‘publicly accessible locations’ are out there. If you know what sort of PALs are most common, the authorities can then target their advice and resources at those sectors. By far the largest single sector in terms of sites is retail and hospitality. How well are high streets doing, so that they can spare budget to do more about their security? Has the Home Office made available those numbers, that for example the country has 48,000 places of worship? Yet if the Home Office’s instinct is to withhold information, how can the security industry expect to be given details about terror threats – what’s more, in good time – to assess and mitigate, if the state is passing part of the responsibility for countering terror, to shops, cinemas and churches?

In his fine book, The Changing of the Guard: the British Army since 9-11, Simon Akam sets out how Britain’s military did so badly in Iraq and Afghanistan – ‘by any sensible judgement, defeats’ – and yet swans on regardless. He too, at root, sifts apart (over 570 pages) illusion and reality, to wonder in the end ‘if this thing of British institutions struggling with both change and a new century ran well beyond the army’. Why bring in the Army here? Partly because (as Akam shows) military types (all males, note) do seem to proliferate as leaders in Britain (compared with, say the police), including in politics (Tom Tugendhat is among the former officers Akam quotes). Akam shows that the Army is part of a British problem, with a phobia against sacking anyone no matter how big or life-threatening their failure, while bawling out privates for a speck of dust in their rifle.

After the Arena Inquiry, those in charge of MI5, Greater Manchester and British Transport Police, Manchester ambulance and fire, made grovelling apologies. Did anyone take actual responsibility in terms of consequences for their careers? What learning or change for the better in those institutions has actually happened?

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