Of the morning seminars at the SIA conference, Professional Security attended the one on the case for and against licensing in-house security. The SIA was careful not to take sides – but even the invited speaker happy with in-house guards staying as they are admitted that he regarded licensing as inevitable.
SIA assistant director Nick Smith began the session, stressing that the authority had no preconceived ideas, and no pre-decided decision on whether in-house guards like contract officers should have an SIA badge. What does public protection require? He asked, admitting that ‘regulatory creep is one of those things we have been accused of. Regulatory creep is one of those things we want to avoid.’ At pains not to take sides, Nick Smith raised what the scope of an in-house licence would include: the self-employed? And what if the job of in-house security is only an incidental part of your job? "Currently there are more questions than answers." Then came two speakers invited by the SIA, to put the case for badging the in-house (Andy Peacock, of Aegis Security Services), and against (George Blanchflower, chairman of the Association of University Chief Security Officers, AUCSO). <br><br>As Andy Peacock explained at the start, Aegis is a subsidiary of the Co-op. The retailer took away its guarding contracts and took its security staff in-house. At the time, the vast majority of officers were not licensed. Now, there are 500 to 600 employees, covering besides retail, logistics and corporate offices. "My view is they [Aegis in-house staff] should be licensed in the same way [as contract staff]. While I don’t believe the bar is set particularly high, at least it gives the public some sort of perception that we are doing something about it." He spoke of another, commercial, reason for becoming licensed; Aegis wants to become SIA-approved, because the Co-op wants Aegis to become commercial and seek contracts outside the Co-op, that is, as a specialist retail security company. <br><br>George Blanchflower, security man at the University of Northumbria, spoke of a survey of AUCSO members late last year. Of those replying, 98 per cent did not want in-house licences. Why so overwhelming? George Blanchflower spoke of members’ ‘bad perception of what licensing was all about’ – in other words, what has gone wrong so far; and the cost of training. "Yes, we do want to improve standards, though the fundamental question was; does the industry need to be licensed to get rid of criminality?" He put it another way, are security guards in the NHS or universities, on ‘the first rung of organised crime’? No. George Blanchflower, speaking from experience of contract and in-house guarding, suggested that in house tend to be better-trained, better-equipped, ‘and better selected, dare I say’. George criticised the bureaucracy of the SIA: "We don’t need that; why would we want that; what is in it for us?" In a word, George queried what a licence regime for the in-house guards would provide. As for ‘scare stories’ about contract guards who because of a criminal past have found work in in-house guarding teams, George queried whether that has happened. (Some others in the audience disagreed.) <br><br>As for the 2pc that were for in-house licences, when asked, they gave the reason that they felt it was a ‘done deal’ and was going to happen anyway. George said that he had some sympathy with that: "If we are to be regulated, we want it to be good regulation." He said he did not want a lowest common denominator. He then rather undermined his case by ending: "My overall view is I think [in-house] licensing has to be inevitable because of reasons about credibility; it would level the playing field a little bit, but whatever happens we are anxious to be involved." <br><br>Note: George did add to Professional Security later that he was not so much undermining any case, but was speaking as he had been invited to do, to put the pros and cons of in-house licensing, with the aim of those attending airing their views – ‘I think I can safely say I achieved that!’
Next came discussion; first to speak was Bill Muskie, chairman of approved contractor VSG. He said George Blanchflower was laudable, but he needed to take the blinkers off. He too used the phrase ‘level playing field’, ‘that everyone is comfortable with’. He did speak of officers who cannot get a contract security licence, getting a job in an in-house team, ‘and that cannot be right’. That was seconded by Andrew White, chief exec of the National Security Inspectorate (NSI); and he too used the phrase ‘level playing field’, although he too agreed that the standard was not high enough in certain areas. Wilson Chowdhry of AA Security suggested there was potential for litigation if an in-house security officer was not able to get a licence. To wry chuckles from the audience, he asked, if in-house were to have licences, whether the cost of the licence would come down. Bill Wyllie, chairman of The Security Institute, who said he was on both sides of the fence, asked the SIA to ‘define their terms a little bit better’, because in-house security is ‘a massive core business function’, and security in a business may be uniformed, may be monitoring of CCTV, but behind those people are many others. As Nick Smith answered, the British Retail Consortium had asked the same question. <br><br>Ken Batten of the University of York, an AUCSO member, detailed how his university does security; there are porters, who besides security deal with the mail, discipline (telling students up very late to go to bed, for instance!), and welfare of students. York has a security team besides. Each college – York has a collegiate set-up at its uni – has its own bar, hence the need for the SIA door badge for door supervisers. Even the local police advised that the university did not need to get such licences, until they were challenged, and on second thoughts the police said the university probably did need the door licences. That meant a £65,000 cost in the first year for training towards the door licence. Ken Batten got himself trained to provide the training in-house. He argued that students would ‘vote with their feet’, and not go to a university where crime was high, and queried whether guard licences were appropriate to the university sector or to, for instance, the NHS hospital porter who also does some security tasks. York also has receptionists monitoring CCTV; and wheel clampers for its car parks; Ken Batten complained of duplication of training for staff needing more than one licence, and despite this being raised again and again, it has still not been resolved. <br><br>Kathy Ridgard of contractor Sodexo like Andy Peacock spoke of staff coming to the firm from another, under TUPE, and not being able to get a contract guarding licence. Tony Pratt of South Yorkshire-based Legal Search made the point that many people out there (that is, beyond the conference) do not give a damn about guarding or standards; ‘that’s a more important audience than this one’. John Smith, head of security at the Prudential, pointed out that security of shopping centres was contracted out years ago. Taking his security team as an example, he said it was difficult to identify who is responsible for security. A man from the Ministry of Defence, stressing he was giving his personal view, not the MoD’s spoke of in-house licensing having some advantages, ‘but the devil is in the detail. Arguably the most telling – and damning? – word came from a Norfolk Police sergeant, who made the observation that the SIA was not coping with what it has to do now. He questioned whether the SIA was over-committing. Rick Ashton, Managing Director of Bournemouth-based, SIA-approved Eagle Hoburne, noting that there had been a lot of talk about a level playing field, asked the sergeant, if he went into a shopping centre, what is the perception of an officer with an SIA badge, or someone in-house? The policeman gave his opinion that there was no difference.