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Tony Imossi, pictured, the president of the Association of British Investigators (ABI) writes on the conversion of the private investigations sector into a profession.
I have not noticed any debate outside the ABI concerning the British Standards Institution (BSI) publication in September 2013 of the Code of Practice for the Provision of Investigative Services, BS102000. I would like to share my view as a strong advocate in favour of the Code of Practice, which in my view, with or without the statutory licensing of investigations, is the way forward for a sector, which most stakeholders agree, is in dire need of compulsory regulation.
With several other industry representatives and stakeholders, I played a part in the BSI panel, which wrote the Code of Practice. My role there was on behalf of the ABI and I think it fair to say the finished product emulates much of the ABI membership model. At the conclusion and publication of the code, I felt it important to put to practice what I, as a member of the panel, was preaching and to demonstrate to colleagues that the code is achievable by a micro business, in practice and affordability. As the lone operative business I was then, I submitted to an independent properly accredited audit and certification process.
My opinion on achieving the certification was and is that, armed also with the only sector specific qualification, after 30-plus years in the investigation industry, I had at last entered a profession, as a professional. I can also state from an informed position that to achieve BS102000 is not the prohibitive over-regulation of business those lobbying against any compulsory accountable process suggest. I had no hesitation in repeating the process from scratch for my new company one year later.
The BS102000 Code of Practice was introduced following the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee recommendations in July 2012. It was a Code destined to be introduced, with or without ABI influence. I believe it has the attention of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and at the ABI Seminar in September 2013, Bill Butler as the SIA CEO confirmed to delegates the SIA’s commitment to introduce Business Licensing. I understand that if and when that happens (at some point after individual licensing) the SIA will be looking to BS102000 as the criteria. It certainly would make sense.
None of the licensing plans may happen, so I understand why some practitioners remain with an entrenched attitude against taking the Level 3 Award qualification and/or pursuing certification to the Code of Practice/Standard. Things may work out for them without the bother and expense; however, if licensing does not happen or perhaps I should more accurately state, with the passage of time without the Private Security Industry Act 2001 being implemented for investigations, the greater momentum to the ABI message to users of the sector’s service providers, to look for higher voluntary standards. But membership of the ABI, which is only of the greatest effect at a single point in time when one applies for membership, may not be enough in a highly competitive marketplace. Professional clients already look for higher standards, compliance assurances, probity of service providers etc. and the Code of Practice, which covers all this on an on-going basis, is the only sector specific recognized solution.
The ABI, with brute force and as market leaders, has brought about a cultural change for its corner of the investigative sector. The start point for the change was, as I explained in my oral evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in February 2012, the ABI’s publication of Richard Newman’s DPA Best Practice Guide, which was first introduced in 2003. Then from in or about 2006 the ABI started to tighten the membership ‘fit & proper’ criteria by introducing compulsory Professional Indemnity Insurance. The raising of standards and good practice policies has continued. Such policies led to The Association exclusively achieving the DVLA approved status, the respect and endorsement of The Law Society of England & Wales and the acknowledgment of The Law Society of Scotland in addition to getting doors open within government departments and the attention of other professional bodies and Law Enforcement Agencies.
I have been a full ABI member since 1986 and I can therefore state, first hand, being a member of the ABI has a very different meaning today than it did 20 years ago. Not to belittle the efforts and policies of past regimes, because the aims were the same but the opportunities only really started on 01 March 2000 when The Data Protection Act 1998 changed everything about the sector’s business model. The ABI is now bigger, stronger, professional, respected, solid and truly without effectual rivalry. Members have privileges and meaningful status and the organisation continues to reach out to better its own position and that for its members. The ABI strongly encourages its long standing members to gain the only sector recognized qualification (in recent times the Award has been the entry level for new members) and the BS102000 Code of Practice, which for now they do so voluntarily. The rest of the sector will do well to pay attention too.