In my conversations with clients, the Metropolitan Police and SO19, people are often shocked to learn that there is no mandatory regulation of security companies. Many believe – rightfully so – that the Security Industry Authority (SIA) governs the industry from top to bottom, when, in reality, it only governs around 20% of it.
That’s right: the organisation that we all depend on to maintain quality and professionalism in the security industry doesn’t have anything to do with the vast majority of it.
The only firm law that applies to the entire industry is that security guards must carry an SIA license. However, no such laws exist for the companies that employ them. They can operate without insurance, without control rooms, without performing background checks and exploit self-employment law loopholes to underpay and overwork their guards. As long as those guards are carrying an SIA license, the company has done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law.
The SIA does have a set of rules for security companies covering insurance, employment, organisation and so on under their Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS). The problem is, the ACS is voluntary. If a security company doesn’t want to be a part of it, they can simply ignore it, which is exactly what 80% of this industry chooses to do.
For the 20% of the industry that does opt-in to the ACS, we get a seal of approval and quality that lets our current and prospective clients know that they’ll receive a high quality security service. But that puts the onus on the client to know that the ACS even exists in the first place, and in my experience, most people don’t.
What they do care about is price, which pushes them to the other 80% of the industry, some of whom are rogue operators who provide a dangerously poor service with overworked, underpaid self-employed security guards without appropriate (or any) insurance cover.
It’s undeniable that the security industry needs top-to-bottom regulation; the services that it provides are simply too crucial to the safety of this country to be left in such a vulnerable state. By making the ACS mandatory rather than voluntary, the SIA could relatively easily turn their existing scheme into industry-wide regulation.
But the current ACS would be too much for many smaller companies to follow. I remember when I first started more than 20 years ago. If the level of organisational sophistication required by the ACS was mandatory (not to mention the auditing fees) Magenta Security would never have grown into the industry leader it is today.
This is where a tiered system comes in. The current ACS can be maintained for those companies already within it, while a lighter and less expensive tier would give a route for smaller companies to receive accreditation from the SIA.
By providing a lighter, mandatory tier, all security companies would have to operate with the essentials – such as appropriate insurance and employed guards – without having to have the advanced organisation and infrastructure currently required to be in the ACS.
The result would be a fully regulated industry that still provides a wide marketplace for those who need security services. Not every client needs an operation the scale of Magenta, but every client deserves to be safe – it’s what they pay for.
With an ACS that is both mandatory and easier to be a part of, the SIA could solve the current lack of regulation in the industry and sweep out the rogue operators that are currently dragging down our reputation and standards.
Unfortunately, as of writing, the SIA is moving in the opposite direction. Instead of opening up the ACS to more companies and making it mandatory, they’re considering keeping it voluntary while making it an even tougher standard.
I work alongside many companies that make up the 20% of the industry that is in the ACS and I can confidently say that they are not the problem. Making the ACS even stricter for us will only reduce that 20% even further, compromising the SIA’s already weak grip on the industry. The ACS is already a hard sell as it’s expensive and poorly understood by the public – why make it even less desirable?
I’ll be giving a speech at the SIA Annual Conference in March and will continue working with my colleagues in the SBN to push for a better regulated security industry. Until then, you can click here to get in touch with the SIA and let them know that you also want a mandatory, tiered ACS.
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