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Una meets James Kelly

Our regular interviewer Una Riley arranged to meet James Kelly, Chief Executive of the BSIA, at The Booking Office Bar in St Pancras Station in London. From the February 2012 print issue of Professional Security magazine.

I recommend the venue to any rail enthusiast, with its revived tradition of the station café accompanied by a modern buzz, courtesy of a long bar stretching to almost 96 feet.  I arrived first and ordered a drink … both the drink and James arrived at the same time.  I had met James in passing but other than the odd salutation I had never had a conversation with him until now. I was very interested to learn more about him and his role as CEO of the BSIA.  His immediate predecessor (John Bates) left the BSIA after only seven months.  James started with the BSIA on January 11, 2010 so he has now been in situ for just over two years. I commented that he should now have his feet firmly under the table but I wanted to know more about when he took over the role. James said: “The BSIA was an organisation that had a good reputation and was well regarded in political circles but what I have tried to do is bring together the different sectors of the association and manage it more as a holistic whole. So I have tried to get involved in both the manpower and the electronic sectors of the association. My arrival coincided with the formation of an association wide business plan/strategy document that Stuart Lowden [of guarding company Wilson James, former chairman of BSIA] introduced and I helped bring to conclusion. That afforded a central steer to what all the disparate parts of the industry are trying to achieve through their membership. So I guess what I have contributed is many years’ of experience running trade bodies and membership organisations that are traditionally run through a member board. I have a lot of experience working with those members to devise strategies and implement them. The value of BSIA membership may have appeared to have diminished in some respects over recent years following the advent of regulation. When the Private Security Industry Act came into force and the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) was set up, that for many companies became the badge to have rather than BSIA membership. Essentially, I think the reason is that the ACS is a government-backed badge. I use an analogy from the postal market where I used to work. When the Post Office was de-regulated and competition introduced with market entrants such as the efficient Deutsche Post, the favoured brand in the public eye was still the Royal Mail, which is a government brand. We suffered from a similar problem and it is ironic that 78 years on we are still facing the same challenge of getting the right regulatory structure in place and that is one of our key priorities.” We chatted at length about regulation.  James continued: “In the current financial climate, trade association membership is regarded by many as a bit like training; ‘nice to have’ but not essential and easy to cut when budgets are tight. As an association every year you are trying to get members to renew their membership. It is an important selling function so one of the things I introduced was to write a bespoke renewal communication to every member. The communication identifies what we have achieved for them that year and what we are hoping to achieve and undertake on their behalf over the next year. I think that has helped us stabilise what could have been a very challenging attrition rate. It actually hasn’t been; it has been fairly constant despite the economic pressures.  So it is a marketing effort instead of just sending a reminder saying by the way your renewal is due and this is how much it is going to cost.”

I asked James what his vision was for the future of the association in general, the industry and himself.  James thought for a moment and then replied: “I think for the association we need to grow; that is a key objective over the coming years. We need it for all sorts of reasons. We need it for revenue but we also need it for our lobbying strength. Yes, there are other organisations such as the FSA and IPSA. There are alternative bodies that companies can turn to instead of the BSIA.  However, sometimes, they don’t ask for such stringent accreditation – ISO: 9001 in the case of IPSA for example. Sometimes other trade bodies are seen as easier to apply to and sometimes they are just considered cheaper. So it is going to be tough in this climate. We are also increasingly finding that we are losing companies to consolidation.”

I said, do you mean mergers and acquisitions? James replied: “It’s that primarily, rather than companies feeling that they are not getting value.   As for the manpower side it is the issue of regulation and getting the right structure in place. Happily, we managed to get that turned around. What we were initially facing as an industry was the complete abolition of regulation and the abolition of the SIA. This would have resulted in a major step backwards to the days when security was used by some as the front for unlawful activities. The BSIA led a very strong and unified campaign on behalf of the industry directly to the Home Secretary. I am glad to say that we contributed to getting the government to re-think and accept that some form of regulation had to be maintained. The proposals we have seen to date, I think it is fair to say have been modified to accommodate the positions that we have put forward. The vast majority of the BSIA’s arguments and lobbying positions have been included in that proposal.”

I enquired as to what the proposals were. James replied: “They consist of maintaining enforcement, monitoring for clients and ensuring sanctions are maintained. But the main thrust in terms of the basis of operating in the industry is that licensing is going to transfer to the businesses from the individual guards. Therefore, a company will have to have a licence to operate if it wants to be active in the security industry.” I reminded James that is what the security industry originally requested at the White Paper stage [in 1999]; it was for the individual companies to be licenced … not the individual!  James smiled and said: “Well we weren’t successful seven years ago but it looks like this time we will be.”

So that is the low down on the BSIA what do you think of the industry in general, I asked.  James replied: “I think the way it is going at the moment is that there is a move towards companies broadening their markets into the general vicinity of facilities management. Some of the bigger players are doing that and even some who profess to be security only companies are in fact widening their offer. The testament to that is the attempted acquisition by G4S to buy IFS … which did not happen but clearly G4S saw that as a right move. I can only see companies looking at this type of market and seeking to acquire economies of scale.” I had to smile as I mentioned that Ray Clarke the former CEO of SITO envisaged this happening years ago and recognised the FM market as being one that the security industry should be part of and participate in as a strong partner. The powers that be at the time within the BSIA did not agree and SITO was no more.  James remarked: “It is a shame in many respects that we no longer have SITO because three of the major revenue streams of a trade body are training, exhibitions and advertising.” I went on to talk about the early days of the Industry Lead Body and the introduction of NVQs into the industry by SITO driven by Ray Clarke.  He was instrumental in bringing nationally recognised qualifications to the industry at a time when there were none.  SITO was a huge benefit to the BSIA and it has never sat well with me that the BSIA just relinquished it. One of the reasons Ray Clarke identified the FM route was to secure government funding.  I believe that if SITO had survived it could have been a massive representative within the FM training and qualifications market by now and the BSIA would have benefited from the original investment.

I asked James what he enjoyed about work. “There is a lot to do, times are tough and people are looking towards the BSIA to help. Apart from supporting the members and individual sectors within the BSIA the function of a trade body is to help free business up from unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and make it a safe and well run industry.” I thoroughly enjoyed meeting James Kelly and have no doubt that the future of the BSIA is in a safe pair of hands. 


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