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Commons Debate

by msecadm4921

Some MPS laid into the Security Industry Authority in a recent Commons debate.

The Home Office minister responsible for the SIA is to send a letter to all private companies in the guarding sector urging them to encourage staff to submit their licence applications as soon as possible, or to utilise the SIA’s bulk applications process.

So a November 16 Commons debate heard. The SIA is working with the Home Office to develop plans to deal with a late surge in the number of applications, if one occurs, Mr Goggins added. Earlier in the debate, a ‘voluntary’ ACS is in fact compulsory for guarding forms – and from March 2006, unlicensed guards will be working – defeating the whole object of the PSI Act, Barnsley Labour MP Eric Illsley claimed.

The approved contractor scheme is likely to lower standards, he told the Commons: The Security Industry Authority set up by the 2001 Act is clearly having difficulties in getting the security industry to comply with the Act. The issuing of licences has been slow and to some extent over-bureaucratic.”

He feared it would be impossible for contract guard firms to meet the March deadline for licences; and that the industry would fall ‘further and further into disarray’. Group 4 Security told me yesterday that it has about 25 full-time staff working purely on licence applications.

As for the approved contractor scheme, while it has been out for consultation until November 17, Mr Illsley accused the SIA of ignoring the consultation period, and of acting as though the scheme has already been set up. He asked also why the National Security Inspectorate was not consulted. He added: “The SIA needs an approved contractor scheme in place by March 2006 because of the delays that it is experiencing in issuing the licences. An approved contractor scheme will allow for fast-tracking so that the top 20 companies in the industry, which are probably also approved by the National Security Inspectorate, will be fast-tracked on to the scheme and allowed to employ unlicensed staff. Staff will be able to be deployed by the companies before their licence is supplied. Obviously, the NSI has been excluded from the consultation because its standards are too high.” The ‘voluntary’ approved contractor scheme will in truth be compulsory, he said.

Bruce George, speaking next, began by implying that Mr Illsley was speaking on behalf of the NSI. Mr George admitted the PSIA was not perfect, and ‘so bad it is almost good’. While he admitted he had criticisms of the SIA, ‘on balance, it is doing a good job’. On the issue of how long licence applications are taking, Mr George said “80 per cent. of all licence applications are dealt with in six weeks”.

Welsh Lib Dem MP Mark Williams spoke of the experience of door supervisors in his Aberystwyth constituency, over delays in applications being dealt with. Mr Williams described the SIA as ‘a laudable organisation in its intent, but serious matters need to be addressed’.

Milton Keynes Labour MP Dr Phyllis Starkey, one of the few who has taken an interest in private security, said she was behind the SIA but had concerns, however, about how the SIA is operating. On the ACS allowing guard firms to have some unlicenced staff, she said ‘the approved contractor scheme is giving firms a licence, in essence, to subvert the will of Parliament’. Lib Dem Lynne Featherstone said ‘the SIA has a tremendous problems and is clearly not coping with the load’. Speaking again, Mr George defended the process of licensing as not discredited, and added that the ‘system is working reasonably well’. Patrick Mercer spoke for the Conservatives, and called on the minister to explain whether regulation is working correctly. He asked the minister to say who is on the SIA’s committees and sub-committees, and publish their names: “Along similar lines, it has been suggested that the SIA policy on employment is not to employ anyone from the private security industry. Will he say whether that is correct?” Mr Mercer wondered also about the SIA having unilaterally abolished the only external strategic oversight body, the stakeholders’ advisory group, two years ago and that it has not been replaced. What plans do the Government have to oversee the SIA? he asked. He also suggested that by regulating private investigators and security consultants the SIA will go into areas where there is a lack of any evidence to suggest that they need regulating.

The minister, Paul Goggins, admitted he was ‘a relative newcomer’. He defended the SIA as open for business only since March 2004: ‘a great deal has been achieved in a sector that was almost wholly unregulated in many respects’. He said: “More than 85 per cent. of licence applications are now processed within the target of six weeks, and there is currently no backlog.” On guarding, the largest sector to be licenced, he admitted ‘a great risk of processing insufficient numbers of licence applications and, therefore, restricting the number of operatives who will be licensed from 20 March’. He urged guard firms not leave licence applications until February and March: ‘I make it absolutely clear that there is no intention to change the [deadline] date from 20 March’.

Mr Goggins skipped over accusations that the ACS consultation period has been a sham. He defended the ACS allowing firms a percentage of not yet licenced staff: “ … in an industry in which there is rapid change and where credible companies are undertaking suitable training, those companies are able to employ those staff for the first few weeks, but if the staff do not come up to scratch they will lose their job”.

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