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ACS review – part one of two

The Security Industry Authority is having a ‘fundamental’ review of its approved contractor scheme. We spoke to the SIA.

Dave Humphries, pictured, Director of Partnerships and Interventions, began with context. The ACS is 11 years old. “We do view ACS as a success story; it has broadly achieved what we wanted it to do. It’s there to raise standards in the industry, and our perception and our evidence is that it has done that.” Cynics might say, why review it then?! To leave Dave for a minute, an answer to that lay in the talk that opened the ST17 conference in Harrogate, on July 4. Ed Bateman of the SIA set out how the world has changed – not only terrorism and other threats in the wider world, but within security provision, a more casualised and self-employed workforce, notably in door security, the main sector for the SIA in terms of numbers. To return to Dave Humphries; while ACS is not a failed scheme, the SIA is looking to build on it. As Dave said: “The world has changed a lot in those 11 years, so one objective must be to ensure that the standard itself is still fit for purpose, and relevant to today’s world.” Hence the SIA’s review, for the standard to reflect reality in the industry.

For more about the review, visit https://www.sia.homeoffice.gov.uk/Pages/acs-review.aspx.

He stayed with that word, standards; the SIA wanting still to give proper reward to good security companies, ‘that get it right and set high standards, and the ACS is the means to do that; we want to make sure it’s effective, so that those who get high scores can translate that into something that is commercially attractive as well.’ To that you could say that in a commercial transaction there has to be two sides; and the security supplier of a service is only one. And Dave in fairness did pass on to that side of the ACS; how it should be transparent to buyers, or put another way that the buyer of a guarding service knows what they are paying for, ‘encouraging the market to choose ACS’, in Dave’s words. He acknowledged that ACS has to be of use to successful businesses, as something that helps in the buying process; besides something for the regulator, as something that makes a link between good security, and good practice; and indeed something good for government and society, for protecting the public. But as Dave said, setting high standards is not just for their own sake; they’re for a purpose, whether preventing crime or (a recent added government requirement for door security) safeguarding the vulnerable.

Dave described the review as fundamental and not done before in the 11 years. He did admit voluntarily that the SIA had done reviews over the years, but this was in another league. Other reviews might have been more like the regulator’s equivalent of a car’s MoT; this review was about the lot, what standard should be set, how it’s run. Professional Security raised, in a word, grading. The ACS does that by a score, from, zero to 174. To leave Dave again for a minute, and as we said to him, say ‘ACS’ to anyone in guarding and they will have an opinion, whether they like the scheme or not. Put another way, it cannot please everyone, and not only because that’s the essence of grading; ranking one company above another. The more carefully you do rankings, the more complicated it can become; and the harder for non-specialists – such as buyers, let alone the public – to grasp. Why a maximum of 174?!

The SIA website has the strange line that the ‘ACS scoring system was not designed to be a differentiation tool’. By comparison, the bronze-silver-gold of the NSI’s guarding standard (which pre-dates the SIA) is easier to grasp. Yes, the ACS gives or denies more marks to a company; the score is according to 89 performance indicators. Which takes us back to the review; what should a company be judged on? What does good look like – and to different interest groups? As the SIA admits, a high score does not mean a company does well in all things. ACS has been taken up by companies of all sizes, from the multi-nationals, to the ‘micros’ with only a handful of people. To return to Dave; while he didn’t commit to particulars, that’s the whole point of consultation; the SIA wants to hear from you, including if you are a non-ACS company (what puts you off seeking or gaining approval? what might make you change your mind?). On the bronze-silver-gold, he said: “We will look at what everybody says. There may be a range of views, we will see; if there is a clear body of opinion that says this is a really good way to go, we would say, why not; if people think this is workable, we would be a regulator that would respond to that. We are at the stage of asking.” He added that grading and scoring had been mentioned to the SIA, ahead of the review. The SIA, then, is not wedded to a way of doing things, but to its goals as a regulator.

Dave did stress that the SIA wants to hear from you. “We are really keen that as many people as possible contribute; we have various means by which they can do so; probably the most obvious is the website portal and offer their views. But there are also specialist focus groups, if anybody is particularly keen to give a detailed opinion about the approved contractor scheme; we would love them to get involved as well. We really want people’s views, and as many as possible. It’s a window that isn’t open for ever.”

For part two of the interview click here.

How to take part

The review is by Pye Tait – visit http://www.pyetait.com/ACSReview.


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