Button SIA comment

by Mark Rowe

Professor Mark Button, of the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, at the University of Portsmouth, comments on the Security Industry Authority (SIA) during the Home Office consultation period on reforms to the UK private security regulator. In a chapter in a recent book, featured in the October issue of Professional Security, Policing and Security in Practice: Challenges and Achievements (Palgrave) he considered whether the SIA might become a ‘pimp’ for the private security sector, or a ‘fag’ regulator, meaning like a public school ‘fag’, captured by the industry.

I am happy to submit evidence on the proposed changes to the regulation of private security in England and Wales. As someone who has been actively researching private security for nearly 20 years, published dozens of peer reviewed papers and books and acted as an advisor to the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime on the regulation of civilian private security services I feel I am one of the few academic experts who can comment upon this consultation.

There are some proposals which I welcome in the document such as the licensing of businesses as well as individuals and new powers for the regulator to use non-criminal sanctions. There are, however, some provisions I am very concerned at, which could lead to greater non-compliance, facilitate more cutting of corners by security firms and make security staff less accountable. The biggest risk is potentially removing the national licence card and giving the individual licensing requirements to the industry. Third, there are provisions outlined about which there is not enough detail to come to a conclusion. The new regime will require greater inspection, but there is little detail on how well the regulator will be to undertake this. There is a suggestion the industry will ‘have a greater say in how it is regulated’ , while there should be greater industry involvement in regulation they should not control it. Other interests should also have a role, such as the public, independent experts, buyers of security, the police to name the most important. There is little in the document to confirm this.
It is important to reiterate the important role private security plays in society and why it is important any rise in standards is not compromised:

•Private security is a substantial resource in crime prevention;
•Private security plays an important role in protecting the country from terrorist acts;
•Private security plays a very important public safety role in places diverse as pubs, clubs, shopping centres to public streets;
•Private security is increasingly taking on roles traditionally associated with the police and other public bodies.

All of these functions require staff of appropriate character, who have undergone the appropriate level of training and who can be held to account. The current licensing regime, although not perfect, has done much to meet these areas. There is a risk, however, this could be undermined. I cannot agree with these proposals until there are guarantees on the continuation of a national licence card issued by the regulator and there are assurances on inspection resources.

Business licensing
First of all I welcome the proposal to introduce compulsory business licensing. This has been a large omission in the regulatory regime that was introduced in 2001 and will fill a major gap in regulation. The requirements a firm will have to comply with are appropriate. If there is to be a continued impact on raising standards conformance with appropriate British Standards according to the size and sector of the firm should be clearly compulsory. As the document currently stands the wording relating to this states, ‘This is likely to include..’ . This should be compulsory.

Another requirement the Government may wish to consider would be for the regulator to ask for an annual report from the licensed business which covers data the regulator would find useful for future planning, such as staff turnover, qualifications achieved by staff, number of assaults against staff, number of arrests made by staff etc. Therefore I would suggest provision should also be made for annual report to be submitted covering information the regulator decides would be useful.

Removal of national licence card
The biggest risk to undermining the Government’s proposals is the possibility of losing the national licence card and having a register alone. The document states:
However, it is possible that the register alone could be considered to provide a sufficient mechanism for individuals to prove their compliance with regulatory requirements. If individuals were not issued with a licence by the regulator it is possible that the employer would be required to issue individuals with an appropriate badge so that they were easily identifiable while being deployed.
The current arrangements for public facing roles such as door supervisors and security guards gives the public and other authorities confidence the person is who they say they are and has met certain minimum requirements. It also gives the public an easier means to identify a security operative for a complaint should their conduct not be appropriate. Removing a national licence card will therefore have the following risks:
•It will make it easier to those without licences to work in the sector. If displaying a licence is not a condition it will no longer be obvious if someone does not possess a licence.
•Companies will be able to deploy staff who haven’t been licensed much more easily. With a national licence it is much more likely any unlicensed staff will be exposed.
•If the creation of a licence card is given to the company this will also undermine the effectiveness. The company will have control of the licences, so will be able to issue them themselves. This opens up the risk of non-licensed staff being given licence cards.
•It will also make it harder for the public to judge if a person has a legitimate licence if there are hundreds of different types in circulation.
The current national licence also acts as significant form of accountability for security staff. The possession of the card is seen as important and operatives know that if they lose it they will lose their job.
The display of a national card also acts as an influence on the actions of security operatives. If they misbehave they know the public will know who they are and can report them. In occupations in the industry where there are frequent risks of violence, such as door supervisors, this is very important.
To reduce the risk of abuse under the new regime it will be essential that underpinning that there is still one licence card issued by the regulator and that it is a condition to display it for public facing security operatives.
Individual Licensing
If there is no national licence card I have serious concerns relating to the shift of licensing of individuals to the industry and even if there still is I still have concerns. The risks will vary from sub-sector to sub-sector, but in some it will risk a serious step backwards. This is because in some sectors price is still the major deciding factor for the award of contracts and therefore there is an incentive to lower standards or cut corners to secure a competitive advantage. There are also other factors peculiar to particular sectors. These and other issues will now be developed sub-sector by sub-sector.

Door supervisors
The biggest risk will come in this sector. There are many more small companies, in-house door supervisors and self-employed staff. Pre-2001 regulation this sector was plagued with criminal infiltration, protection rackets and regular use of excessive violence by some door supervisors. The 2001 Act has brought a degree of order to this sector. Leaving licensing to the firms in this sector will expose the risk of the pre-2001 problems re-emerging. This is because there are many more firms to target, than other sectors. Thus if one firm is abusing the system a lot of effort maybe required to discipline or close down one small firm. Even when complete, this may mean others have grown in its place. Also because door supervisors work in the night-time economy in private locations it will be more difficult to check compliance. Added to this the potential for a lack of a visible nationally recognised licence it will make it very difficult for the public, police and regulators to initially determine if someone is a licensed door supervisor. I would expect the following problems to occur on a large scale if these proposals are introduced:

•More unlicensed door supervisors working in the night-time-economy (without a publicly recognised licence on display it will be difficult for the public to spot this).
•As a consequence, greater infiltration in the sector by those unable to secure a licence or have inappropriate backgrounds to secure a licence.
•Less compliance with training standards, meaning greater risk to the public of excessive or inappropriate force.
•A greater risk of organised crime returning to this sector.
•Less accountable door supervisors (they would be less worried about losing their licence).
The proposals as they stand seem to be written with the large security contractors in mind and their utility is least for the door supervision sector.

Manned guarding
The manned guarding sector is a very price sensitive driven market. It is dominated by a few large companies, but there are also hundreds of smaller firms. The Olympics fiasco with G4S exposed the just-in-time approaches of the security industry, which clearly failed on such a large contract. High labour turnover continues to be a big problem in this sector. Generally companies often face challenges to secure enough security guards for new contracts. The requirements of the current licensing regime, make this even more challenging. There would be therefore some advantages to the proposals. However, there will be increased risk of contractors utilising staff who have not yet undergone licensing on a short-term basis to fill gaps. This will mean the risk of criminals working in the industry as companies will be tempted to deploy staff before any checks have been undertaken. What is likely to be even more of a problem is staff deployed having undergone no training or working for long periods before undergoing training, something which regularly occurred before the 2001 Act.
As with door supervisors if there is a lack of a national licence card which needs to be displayed, this would also reduce the accountability of the industry and increase the ability of staff and firms to get round the legislation. I would therefore expect the following problems to become a much higher risk if the proposals are introduced:

•Larger numbers of unlicensed security staff working illegally.
•Greater criminal penetration into the sector.
•Large numbers of security staff working in the sector having undergone no training.
•Less accountable security officers.
Cash and valuable in transit
In this sub-sector the provisions are most likely to work. The sector is dominated by a few large companies. Entrance requirements are high for firms. The risk to the public from the actions of these staff is much lower. Therefore the proposals could work effectively in this sector.

The regulator
The constitution of the SIA is beyond the scope of the consultation. However, this is central to the effectiveness of any of the proposed changes under consultation. The suggestions have been floated of change of status from NDPB and for greater industry representation. Whether the SIA is an NDPB or body like the General Medical Council is one largely of semantics and would seem to be primarily driven by the Government’s desire to reduce the number of NDPBs, rather than effective regulation.
However, the scope of industry representation on the regulator is an important issue. There should be scope for a larger group of interests which include more representatives from the security industry. These should not form the majority. Other interests such as the public, buyers of security, police etc should also have representation. If the regulator becomes too dominated by industry representatives there is a risk regulation begins to be shaped in their interests. There have been some suggestions the SIA has been ‘captured’ by the industry , which is debatable. Given a majority stake it would become a ‘puppet’ or ‘fag’ regulator captured by the industry. Given the proposals will give much more scope to the industry to undertake and enforce legislation this would open up the risk of regulations shaped to meet the needs of the industry not the public and buyers.
A welcome development in the proposals is that the regulator will have the power to fine, issue warnings, improvement notices etc outside the criminal courts. This will enable quicker and more effective sanctions to be pursued and will create a more effective regulatory enforcement pyramid. However, there is little information on the potential size of sanctions and how these will be administered.

The new regime will require a much bigger inspectorate to enforce the legislation. The consultation paper does not explore this issue and rumours have been circulating that the inspectorate will actually decline in size. This is a major risk to compliance with the legislation. If the industry is given the opportunity to regulate itself but the auditing and inspection are weaker some will calculate it’s worth the risk of not complying, particularly if that gives a commercial edge. The inspectorate should be expanded under this regime and guarantees of its size should be maintained.

It is also a shame the consultation has not considered addressing some of the other longer standing gaps in private security regulation. This includes the in-house security sector, installers of security equipment, security consultants and private investigators. The latter, with the revelations of malpractice from the Leveson inquiry, surely makes their inclusion a priority.

These proposals as they stand at present pose too many risks for my full support. However, with assurances on some of the issues identified above, such as the continuation of a national licence card, appropriate resources for inspection and guarantees on the composition of the regulator these combined with the good idea to licence all security firms these could create more efficient and effective regulation of the private security industry.

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