Vertical Markets

‘Protect duty’ in detail

by Mark Rowe

The proposed ‘Protect duty’ is potentially the biggest regulation of how the UK secures itself since the SIA regime set up in the mid-2000s, writes Mark Rowe. For example, proposed are inspections of businesses’ security set-ups. As for what this new regime will cost; the consultation document is silent.

And whereas the SIA merely affected individuals working in security – it badged hundreds of thousands of security staff, mainly doormen and contract security guards – the Home Office’s proposed ‘Protect duty’ will cover most public spaces, from supermarkets and cinemas to parks and beaches. In fact, places that the Home Office consultation document explicitly says will not be covered by the new duty – rail and airports – already have specific security regimes, most recently arising from the 9-11 terror attacks.

As trailed by the Government for a year, the duty will place counter-terrorism security responsibilities on ‘crowded places’ – in the CT jargon, now to be known as publicly accessible locations. That could include non-security staff being trained; physical security such as access control or CCTV; and risk assessment of threats to sites, renewed at least once a year as the Government threat levels change.

However, as the consultation admits, recent terror attacks have been outdoors, in city squares or parks or on bridges; locations ‘often vulnerable to low sophistication methodologies such as knife attacks or the use of a vehicle as a weapon’. And ‘it is usually innocent members of the public who are the target, rather than the location itself’. The document admits that ‘these types of attacks are difficult to combat’; still, ‘the Government wants to consider how it can do more to work with the parties responsible for such locations to consider and achieve appropriate security measures’; as raised, the consultation admits, at the Westminster and London Bridge (pictured) inquests, and the Manchester Arena Inquiry.

As a sign of how hard it will be to define what businesses will actually have to do to satisfy the duty, the consultation uses the term ‘reasonably practicable’ which it says ‘is already a well-established and understood concept for organisations through health and safety legislation and fire safety regulations, which requires owners-operators to weigh a risk against the effort, time and money needed to mitigate it’.

The consultation therefore, almost in passing, proposes to put site security management on a par with health and safety, and fire safety, which each have been backed by law.

While, as featured in the January print edition of Professional Security magazine, the Home Office trailing the duty in December suggested that coffee shops would fall under the duty, the consultation document proposes that it’s ‘reasonable that a Protect Duty should apply to large organisations employing 250 people or more, operating at publicly accessible locations’, such as cinemas and supermarkets. It appears that a chain of coffee shops will fall under the duty, as would ‘high street retailers, supermarkets, betting shops, newsagents, chemists, and petrol stations’, while a single, independently-owned coffee shop will not. However, another proposal appears to rule out coffee shops, as a threshold would be set it ‘for publicly accessible venues able to hold gatherings of 100 persons or more to carry out an assessment of threats and implement appropriate mitigating measures at their premises’.

The consultation is at pains to say that it wants an inspection regime to be ‘light touch’ and it acknowledges ‘that security considerations, whilst still important, must be proportionate to the threat of terrorist attack. The consultation also admits the poor timing of the proposal, given ‘the huge impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on many’. Yet the consultation sets out ‘an enforcement model which gives inspectors the capacity to provide advice and guidance on risk assessment and appropriate mitigations for organisations within scope of the duty; where these were considered insufficient, inspectors could request necessary improvements were made’. And if sites don’t comply, they will get fined. At least managers won’t go to jail: “We consider this is an appropriate framework for a regime that is seeking to encourage more effective organisational security cultures, than a system of criminal sanctions which could result in persons responsible for security at venues and organisations being imprisoned.”

As for what powers inspectors ought to have (to demand entry to premises?) ‘and the most appropriate and cost-effective delivery authority and mechanisms for carrying out inspections’ – in other words, who’s paying – the document does not say. From the sound of the consultation, inspection bodies already around such as NSI and SSAIB might do the inspecting: for an ‘inspection regime would use evidence-based risk assessments and other proportionate means to determine how and where inspections take place’.

As for what venues and public places will have to do, the consultation promises guidance, ‘to explain the nature of threats and terrorist methodologies, advice on how to assess the potential impacts of an attack at a specific site or public space, and the range of mitigating measures which may be appropriate and proportionate’.

In yet another use of the word ‘reasonable’, without defining what physically or in training terms it might mean for a building or place, the document says an aim is ‘an improved culture of security, where owners-operators can undertake informed security considerations, and implement reasonable and proportionate security measures’.

The consultation runs to July 2; you can read it at

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