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Weak licensing is hurting customers, guards and the whole industry

I’m starting 2016 with a clear message: the security industry needs full business licensing.

 

It was my message last year, and the year before that, and the year before. Back in 2012, I was heartbroken at the number of rogue security companies who set up to profit from the Olympics, only to leave the country with pockets full of cash and a string of unpaid guards behind them.

 

I would like to say that such behaviour wouldn’t be possible today, but I can’t. There’s still nothing stopping anybody setting up a company, finding a guard and selling their services to you.

 

Here are just a few ways the lack of business licensing hurts customers, guards and the industry as a whole:

 

  • Customers: There are no regulations requiring a security company to carry insurance. If one of their overworked and under trained self-employed guards decides to clean out your warehouse rather than protect it, you could be left with millions of pounds worth of damages and losses. There’s also no requirement for their guards to have any back up or support infrastructure, leaving the guard and whatever they’re protecting alone and exposed.
  • Guards: As it’s the guards rather than the companies who have to be licensed, companies are able to hire staff as self-employed on zero hour contracts. This means they can work them for longer hours and for less money without providing any benefits such as sick pay or holiday leave. Many guards don’t know from one week to the next whether they have a job, which is stress you don’t want someone protecting your interests to be suffering.
  • Industry: To try and stay competitive against rogue operators who are able to scrape the bottom of the barrel to lower prices, many larger companies are also employing guards on zero hour contracts. This doesn’t breach the terms of the SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme, so even accredited security companies are able to exploit their staff with impunity. This lowers the reputation of the industry and makes it a less attractive career option.

 

Currently, the SIA’s Approved Contractor Scheme allows private security companies to apply to be measured against independently assessed criteria. If they pass, they can then advertise using an “SIA Approved Contractor” logo, as you can see at the top of this page. A company that claims to be SIA approved but isn’t faces a fine of £5,000.

 

You can already guess the problems with this opt-in assessment. The Approved Contractor Scheme lets bona fide companies display that they have achieved and are held accountable to a certain level of quality but its effectiveness relies on the end user knowing that the scheme exists in the first place. Its criteria also doesn’t cover some of the worst practices in the industry, such as the use of zero hour contracts and lack of support for guards on duty.

 

So if there’s already some amount of regulatory infrastructure in place, why doesn’t the SIA make it more robust and make it mandatory?

 

My cynical answer is that licensing guards rather than companies is more profitable for the SIA. There are more than 100,000 registered guards in the UK, and charging them each £220 brings in more money than licensing a few thousand security companies.

 

A more hopeful answer is that we’re not trying hard enough. For years, I’ve been lobbying the SIA and the industry at large to implement business licensing and many reputable security companies have joined me in my efforts. We’ve felt close many times, but we’ve never quite managed to achieve our goal.

 

I believe 2016 can finally be the year we succeed. Let’s make it impossible for the SIA to ignore the damage that the lack of business licensing is doing to clients, guards and the industry as a whole.

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