The new Chairman of the Security Industry Authority, Elizabeth France, has pledged that the SIA will be “audacious” in the use of its powers to implement further security industry regulation across the UK.
In a packed speech, France told delegates at The Security Institute’s 2014 Annual Conference that the SIA is determined to push regulation as far as possible within the scope of the Private Security Industry Act.
“That means doing everything that we can within the statute that we’ve got to move in the direction of travel that we know that the industry and ministers want us to go in and where we believe is best,” she said.
She is hopeful that secondary legislation will be introduced which would allow the SIA to add business licensing to its services alongside licenses for individuals, but there will be delays. While it enjoys the support of ministers in the Home Office, the newly appointed Under Secretary of State for Criminal Information, Lord Bates, won’t take up his new post until early October, so it’s unlikely anything would happen before then.
She firmly believes there is a need for business licensing. “I do think that members of the public would be horrified if they realised that some of the biggest suppliers are not themselves regulated,” she said. “It seems a strange thing that governments and big businesses hand over vast and important areas of security to companies, the controlling minds of which are not regulated in any way.”
Another area that she wants to look at is the rate of turnover of staff within the industry. A perennial problem, turnover is estimated by the SIA to be 30% across the security industry. “Where does that talent go? What can we do to stabilise that? And what can we do to help businesses not to lose the skills of people who come in and then leave, to help them retain and develop them instead?” Further to that, she sees an opportunity to use security industry training to educate people who may otherwise have few if any qualifications to their name.
Elizabeth France is also determined to drive down the cost of running the SIA. Progress was already being made on this issue before she joined the SIA, she said, declining from a high of £36m per year to £27m per year, but she thinks with additional efficiencies including a new computer system that costs can be reduced to as low as £20m per year.
Other issues she addressed included:
- Gender inequality – currently women represent less than 9% of the security industry workforce, and she questioned whether there were cultural issues in the industry which needed to be addressed. She suggested that, subject to further research, the SIA might set a goal of achieving 20% female representation within the industry by 2020.
- The Approved Contractors Scheme – there are currently 781 approved companies and the scheme is strictly enforced, but there are instances of the label being misused and some famous cases of purchasers who were caught out because they failed to verify whether a new supplier was ACS registered.
- SIA strategy and business plan – the board met last week to begin the process of drafting a new plan and France expects a draft document for consultation to be ready for comment in January, with a view to implementing it in March.
- Partnership working – the SIA wants to work more closely with other government regulations, like the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and local authority licensing officers.
- Violence reduction strategy – while there’s less binge drinking and less violence in the night-time economy, 50% of violent crimes in the UK are still attributed to alcohol and 81% of door supervisors report being assaulted in the past year, so clearly there is some work to be done in this area, she said.
She concluded by saying that she is determined that the work of the SIA will not begin and end with licensing, whether that be individuals or businesses, but will aim to raise standards across the board. “A tick box approach to regulation doesn’t help anything,” she said, adding that it won’t all fall on the shoulders of the SIA. “We should be working with you to ensure that between us we take responsibility for raising standards, but maybe the balance between us, as the industry becomes more mature and we understand our role as a regulator better, is that more of it is done by the industry… with the regulator helping and supporting.”
At the conclusion, there were a few questions from the audience. One delegate asked if there was any truth to the rumour that the SIA would require license holders to pay annually rather than every three years?
France replied that this was not the case as it would cause additional overheads in processing applications and payments and anyway, if business licensing came in, there would be fewer individual licenses to issue.
Have electronic license applications helped the SIA? Yes, she replied, because they have virtually eliminated errors, meaning SIA staff don’t spend a lot of time chasing missing information. A recent report she had seen showed that electronic applications were already having a noticeable impact on efficiency.
Another delegate asked an age-old question: why are there so many different licenses? Some people have four of them hanging around their necks, he said. Is there any chance of bringing in a driving license style license?
France admitted it was something the SIA needs to examine. She recounted her experience joining SIA staff on spot checks in Birmingham city centre. “Obviously, we knew which badges they needed for the job they were doing at that particular time,” she said, “but some of them dutifully got out almost a pack of cards to show us, so yes there is something that we need to look at.”