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Change Agreed

by msecadm4921

If speakers at a recent conference hosted by guarding firm SafeSec agreed on one thing, it was that the guarding sector is about to see change.

Many guarding companies, perhaps most, will not survive licencing. So suggested BSIA customer relations director Stephen Adams. Once there was slight friction between the electronic and guarding sides of the BSIA, Stephen Adams began by admitting. Once the two sides would sell against each other, electronic security companies suggesting that clients put in CCTV and so reduce guarding. No longer; both sides realise that clients want a mix of electronic and manned security. Stephen Adams quoted a common question from a series of BSIA seminars late last year: how can I justify to my board the cost increases in guarding as a result of licences’ Stephen Adams quoted the response of SIA Chief Executive John Saunders: the board stumped up for the increase in national insurance, and the reason was, it’s the law. Moreover, to use unlicenced security staff is an offence.
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As for some of the licence anomalies widely raised in the guarding sector, Stephen Adams said there was no doubt that in-house security teams will be included in licencing, ‘and probably within the time-scale for the contract security industry. There were undoubted fears that if people could not get a licence they would percolate into Scotland [which however last year chose to come under the SIA] or in-house.’ Instead of three days’ basic training for security officers, the SIA licence would require five, he said. There would be no doubt that a lot of people employed in the security industry would not get a licence; to recruit good people, jobs would have to be enhanced – which was a link to electronic security: not only monitoring buildings but, for example, testing in the workplace for drugs, which statistically is a problem for everyone.
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Stephen Adams spoke of the fear that a licence is like a MoT certificate – only proof for certain on the date of issue; but he said it was very likely that if someone in security broke the law during the three years covered by a licence, and got a criminal record, the SIA would be told about it and be able to act on it.
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He went on to cover other costs affecting guarding: the central London traffic congestion charge, which for a cash in transit company could mean a six-figure bill for its CIT vehicles going in and out of the charge zone. A review of the Working Time Directive – to be exact, the opt out that security and other industries has from keeping to the 48-hour working week – was due in October 2003, and may come in March. If the opt out had to end, it could mean the equivalent of four security officers required where three work about 60 hours a week at present. Regardless, then, of licences, more staff would be required: are there enough people’ Stephen Adams asked. He doubted that there was a ‘bog standard’ security officer any longer; there were real skills being developed, in CCTV monitoring, the retail sector, and working in Jobcentres, for instance.
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Returning to the overriding question of cost – how far would the budget have to go up, to pay for licences and all that come with them – Stephen Adams said that it depends on what you spend already. If you pay peanuts (for contract guarding) and get monkeys, licences could cot you quite a lot: ‘If you are paying for good people with reasonable wages, the cost impact will be less.’
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Pay, hours are still questions
Licences will bring to the boil questions of pay and hours already bubbling, according to the following speaker, Terry O’Neil, founder of the guarding audit body The Security Watchdog, which numbers SafeSec among its gold award members.
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Long hours for guards – up to 84 a week – will only attract people into manned guarding as a stopgap, said Terry O’Neil. He recommended a 42-hour week, four days on, four days off, with the option of limited overtime, maybe a 12-hour shift once a fortnight or even a week. He said: ‘There is a definite correlation between the wage rate and the longevity of the security guard, make no doubt about that. Unfortunately at tender a guarding contractor will not say how many times a security guard will turn over – because the contractor does not know, or because to say so would be the kiss of death. ‘But I suggest,’ Terry O’Neil told the security buyer audience, ‘it is a question you should be asking.’
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There are few if any staff benefits in the guarding sector, he went on. The stake-holder pension scheme in many organisations is just a shell scheme; staff do not have the money to put into it, and margins are so reduced that the companies do not have the ability to make a contribution. If a client is able to provide a guard with a free or subsidised meal, that has a value far more than you might think, Terry O’Neil said. Staff will feel loyalty to such a client compared to one that does not offer such a meal. The logic, he added, was obvious: over time a low wage rate, staff come and go, and there is no consistency in the industry. ‘A number of the major companies are barely breaking even.’ Such companies were killing themselves; clients had to make sure that there was a margin for the contract guarding firm, else there would be a temptation for the guarding firm to cut corners, illegally.
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Member of The Security Watchdog’s gold award scheme, like SafeSec, open all their doors to an on-site audit and put the findings on the table to the client, and work for improvements. An audit includes an interview with everybody on a site at the time – day or night: ‘We believe it should be out of hours, because that’s the under-belly of the industry.’ On arriving the auditor will take an officer’s check call if it is due, to see the reaction (or not) of the control room. At interview, an individual is asked where he lives: ‘You wouldn’t believe the number of people who live in Romford who work in Heathrow.’ Such a commute means a ‘horrendous’ train journey; such staff may have been sent there in an emergency, but are still there three or four months later – and hence probably looking for some other job. The interviewer asks what training the officer has had; and if he has any issues, such as over uniforms or pay. Does he ever see a superviser visiting the site’ How do they feel about the company’ is the daily occurrence book kept properly’ An officer is tested on the assignment instructions – that he has signed for. Also: ‘We talk to you the client as to how you feel they are doing on site.’
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The Security Watchdog has its own control room, near London; and plans to set up a small training facility, as the SIA licence training takes hold. Terry O’Neil believes inspecting – as the SIA will have to inspect England, Scotland and Wales to make sure of compliance – is not a role for the Watchdog. He believes the SIA inspectors will be effective.
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As for the in-house security team, Terry O’Neil sees a logic that in-house staff will go through the process of licencing, to give the client comfort. The industry needs to adopt the Working Time Directive, he said. Guarding with lower hours can be a genuine alternative to the police or the Army, he added. He pointed out that security officers for perhaps 12 hours a day are in the front line; how often do police or soldiers have to do that? ‘If we employ the Working Time Directive, as we should, we will attract better quality people.’ In an echo of Stephen Adams, he spoke of a ‘recruitment crisis’ when 20 or 30 per cent of guards slip away as a result of licences. Under licencing, the Watchdog would provide a service of on-site audit geared to SIA inspections. As for service level agreements between guarding company and client, Terry O’Neil agreed they are important; but after four to six months regular meetings don’t necessarily take place; faults creep into the system; and all of a sudden a major fault occurs. Then the client considers going out to tender again. A hard-hitting audit, built into the contract, in his experience, cuts the number of clients who feel they have to go out to tender.
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Lastly, he spoke of how the guarding industry can gain the genuine respect it craves: ‘Many security officers provided a first-class service under the most difficult circumstances. Security can offer an alternative career to the police, forces, police support officers, escort officers and community wardens, the whole array of people coming into the market-place and pushing the contract security guard to the bottom of the pile.’ Promotion for someone who wants to get a real hold on guarding can be extremely rapid, he added – more rapid than in the police or the services.

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