Second spell at SSAIB

by Mark Rowe

Lynn Watts-Plumpkin, Security Services scheme manager at the SSAIB is nine months into her second spell at SSAIB and, she says, she should never have left – as SSAIB chairman Geoff Tate keeps reminding her!

I left to improve my horizons, but – to be honest – our chairman is right, and I should have stayed. I am back though, and it feels like I am a part of the SSAIB family again now.

Despite re-joining during the covid-19 pandemic and having to assemble almost a whole new team, I am absolutely delighted with how my team have reacted to it all. It has been difficult not being able to see them face-to-face – although I did manage to do a couple of audits with deputy scheme manager and SIA lead, Keith Rogers, and our newest assessor Stuart [Tisseman] face-to-face in-between lockdowns. We are probably liaising more than ever though, as we are having regular Microsoft Teams meetings so it’s good in that sense. Overall, I am extremely pleased with how everyone has worked and adapted to the new conditions.

We have successfully conducted remote audits since the first week of lockdown in March 2020 – and then combined audits, e.g. part on-site and part remote, when it was safe to do so – and I think we could absolutely incorporate online audits in the future, once everything returns to ‘normal’ again.

The documentation could be reviewed remotely, talking to the firms’ personnel, and that would give us more time to spend on the site visits. The site visits are crucial, as it is the frontline staff that are the customer interface and it is so important that we see them how they actually are – as opposed to how the firm wants us to see them.

Ideally – if it was up to me – I would like to see partly-remote assessments, where you would review all of the information, and then unannounced site visits. Now, I realise we are dealing with the security industry and it is not as easy as that. So, what we would have to do is arrange with the firms and ask them for a site list. Then over a given period, eg three months, we will be visiting those sites at some point when the security service is operational and would include night, weekend, or day time visits. Firms would need to make their customer(s) aware of that and the assessors would carry letters of authorisation from the firm and SSAIB, as well as our SSAIB ID card, so that we could turn up and do some mystery shopping of sorts. That way, we would get to see exactly what the customer sees which would benefit the firms and ensure continuous delivery of an excellent service and opportunities for continual improvement.

What I think will happen, going forward with the assessments, is that we will still do a remote element, say half-a-day reviewing documentation, and the rest of the time will be spent looking at specific things at the firms site – like screening, vetting, payroll etc – in the office and then going to do the site visits to look at the front line staff. I think the assessing team at SSAIB, and myself, all prefer some sort of face-to-face on-site audit – as we’re all finding it a bit frustrating that we can’t do the on-site element. As I stated earlier, they’ve all adapted very well though and they seem quite happy. We’re doing a combined assessment, so we’re doing part one remote and then – within six months – we’re doing part two at the firm’s office and conducting site visits.

Those organisations that have not had the chance to do that part two by March 31, 2021, we’re going to abandon that part two and do a full indicator assessment next year instead – as well as adding on the day that was missed this year, where relevant, so that we can have a more detailed assessment than normal to compensate. The team have missed doing the on-site audits, as I say. The operational findings have reduced and as the majority of those are found during site visits or when we are looking at screening, vetting and payroll, which we are not able to do at present due to the confidential nature of that information.

The pandemic has affected all aspects of the security industry over the last 12 months, but a lot of companies have been amazing and have really adapted, by handing out masks and monitoring COVID queues etc.

Unfortunately, some security companies have been hit really badly – like the events and the door sector – but some have adapted and are flying, to the point that some of them have had their best year ever and that’s amazing to hear. Some haven’t been able to survive, sadly. Those that could not adapt have not managed it and some are just clinging on by their fingertips. However, most of them are doing well and have a brighter future going forward, which is fantastic.

A lot of companies have been able to continue due to the continuation of their certification. SSAIB are one of the certification bodies for the Security Industry Authority (SIA) Approved Contractors Scheme (ACS), but we also have the product standards – eg BS 10800, Provision of Security Services, BS 7958 CCTV management and Operation, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner Code of Practice – and management systems certification, such as quality management system, health and safety management system and environmental management system etc.

For those companies that feel like they wouldn’t get the full benefit of the ACS scheme, they can have other standards – such as management systems and product – which means that they have met the requirements for their specific sector. That could open doors for new opportunities, however, most companies will only recognise and sub-contract out to other ACS companies if they are an ACS company themselves.

The ACS is a very good standard, it must be said. It is based on other standards – like management systems and EQFM (European Foundation for Quality Management) – and, again, it had input from industry. It is recognised by buyers, purchasers, and other security companies – as mentioned above, ACS companies can only sub-contract to other ACS firms – so it is a good level.

However, my stock answer whenever anyone asks me if they should go for ACS is “Are you going to get more work out of it?”. If there is no chance of getting any work it may be better, if they think some of their customers don’t recognise the ACS scheme, to go for Quality Management Systems (QMS) and the product standard(s) – as that can open doors for organisations that aren’t fully familiar with the Approved Contractors Scheme – and SSAIB offers all of those assessments which already includes management of the supply chain.

At the end of last year, the SIA removed the online achievement record. Any new applicants had to implement the online achievement record – which is like the Self-Assessment Workbook (SAW) – and update it throughout the year. The assessors would then use that as part of the assessment process, but that was removed – as I say – and the SIA are introducing an interactive PDF. However, we do not know the timescales for that to be introduced, so there is currently an interim period where the SAW is not fully operational.

Therefore, for our firms – if they have the details that were included in the old Self-Assessment Workbook – they need to retain that information in something like a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, which shows the indicator-by-indicator scores and then put the evidence in to show how they have met all the indicators. That work will not be wasted – as they should be able to cut and paste this into the new interactive workbook.

The interactive workbook will be owned by the firm and not the SIA, like it used to be. The firm will be responsible for the interactive SAW and they will send that to SSAIB for review and acceptance. We will input our scores and then it will be returned to the firm, so they have a year-on-year record of their scores, our scores, and the evidence. It should be a good method of gathering everything together, but it is yet to be released.

Away from the coronavirus, I think the security industry – as a whole – is in a really good position. I’ve been in the security industry since 1983, I was the youngest known female operation manager in the latter part of that decade – working for a contracted security company, where I was responsible for around 200 male security officers – and I’ve been involved with the SIA since the very first assessors’ course, which then saw me become the first female ACS assessor back in the mid-2000s.

The industry has improved and has become a lot more professional with the SIA coming on board, but I would like to see the SIA’s ACS become mandatory, so that every company has to be assessed. It’s a voluntary scheme and the SIA were thinking of bringing something in called Business Licensing, but this has been put on hold. However, if that was to come around then at least we would know which security companies were out there, what they are doing, where they are based and who is undercutting the ACS companies who have gone to the trouble – and the expense – to get to the required level of approval and certification.

All in all, I think the security industry is booming. Most security personnel are seen as key workers and they should be, because they are in charge of multi-million-pound assets – as well as people and buildings – and they should be recognised and better respected for the work that they do. Now there is more of a career in the security industry, hopefully, more people will come into it as a job and not just as a stop-gap until they get a ‘proper’ job.

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