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Review moots business licensing scheme

All businesses offering security services, whether contract or in-house, where there is a risk to public protection, safeguarding and national security, should be subject to a business licensing scheme. That’s according to the long-delayed Home Office review of the Security Industry Authority, newly published.

Business licences should only be issued to companies who meet the voluntary revised Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) standards. As for the ACS, the review says it should be streamlined and ‘refreshed’. One suggested change is that the scheme should be ‘industry owned and administered’, with the SIA setting standards and overseeing compliance.

A change that could affect hundreds of thousands of people, the review says the SIA ‘should develop a strategy to enable individual licensing to be progressively replaced with business licensing where it is safe and appropriate to do so’. That would amount to a historic reverse, as the original badging of door staff, then contract security guards and CCTV public space operators in the 2000s was on the basis of the Private Security Industry Act 2001, and the ACS was voluntary for companies.

As for the buying of security services, the review suggests that the Home Office should ‘mandate purchasers to use private security industry services from businesses that meet the revised voluntary ACS standards’. So far in the dozen or more years of SIA regulation, the Scottish Government (as the review mentions) is the most high profile setting of such a requirement, whereby the Scottish public sector (and the NHS in Scotland, among others) has to buy from only ACS-approved companies when seeking guarding services.

Another breaking of a logjam may come with private investigators (PIs). While Theresa May as Home Secretary in summer 2013 said that the Home Office and SIA would regulate PIs, little has been heard or seen of that commitment since. The review says that PIs ‘should be treated as businesses and subject to the revised voluntary ACS system of standards’.

The bottom line is that the SIA has ‘performed to a satisfactory standard as a regulator and should be retained, but now is the time to focus on how it can make changes to achieve regulatory best practice to take the industry forward’. The review is very much in line with Conservative Government thinking on regulation generally, speaking as it does in terms of reducing ‘burdens’ on those businesses covered by the regulator, and how the SIA should focus its efforts on those sectors, operators or purchasers with the greatest risk. As for the SIA internally, the review says it sees ‘scope for greater efficiencies within the SIA which will in turn reduce burdens on the industry’. The SIA recently shifted its head office from Holborn in central London to Canary Wharf, moving in with similar regulators.

The review sums up by foreseeing ‘better and less regulation’. “In the view of the Review, the closer companies come to securing higher standards the less SIA regulation will be necessary; indeed, this vision is reflected in the SIA corporate plan. If purchasers, the PSI and SIA can identify further incentives, such as reduced fee burden for those delivering to a higher standard there should be less intrusion and commensurate reductions in regulatory costs and burdens.” The review argues that the private security industry is not mature enough to regulate itself, and ‘is unlikely to be so in the near future’.

Welcoming publication, Alan Clamp, Chief Executive of the SIA, said: “Many of the findings of this review reflect the SIA’s published priorities some of which we are already delivering successfully and others are reflected in our strategic plans going forward. We are enthusiastic about the findings and recommendations of this review. We will work with Home Office and the Devolved Administrations to implement all parts of this Review which the Government wishes to take forward. We also stand ready to take on any extended areas of regulation, should the Government ask us to do so.”

For the triennial review, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/security-industry-authority-triennial-review-2016-to-2017.

Background

As background, the SIA regulates over 300,000 people in the private security industry and issues over 100,000 licences a year. This is administered by an organisation of around 200 staff at an annual cost of about £26m. Visit http://www.sia.homeoffice.gov.uk/.


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