Brian Sims

Government “not persuaded” on business licensing for enhanced public safety

THE GOVERNMENT has confirmed it’s “not persuaded” that licensing businesses carrying out security services would deliver improvements in public safety “proportionate to the significant increases in regulatory burdens” that this would entail.

On Tuesday 2 May, Baroness Natalie Bennett of Manor Castle (a Life Peer representing the Green Party and a member of the House of Lords since October 2019) tabled a question in Parliament. Baroness Bennett asked His Majesty’s Government what consideration it had given to introducing a registration (or other oversight) scheme for those companies providing security services in association with the introduction of the Protect Duty (ie Martyn’s Law), now officially introduced as the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill.

The question was then answered on Tuesday 16 May by Lord Andrew Sharpe of Epsom OBE (pictured, a Life Peer representing the Conservative Party who was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office on 20 September last year with responsibilities for public safety and national security ‘shadow’ in the Lords and public safety and national security legislation).

In his response, Lord Sharpe of Epsom stated: “Volume 1 of the report produced by the Manchester Arena Inquiry recommended that ‘consideration should be given to whether contractors who carry out security services should be required to be licensed’ (Recommendation 8). The Government has given careful consideration to this matter and is not persuaded that licensing businesses in this way would deliver improvements in public safety that would be proportionate to the significant increases in regulatory burdens that this would entail.”

Lord Sharpe continued: “Instead, the Government has asked the Security Industry Authority, which regulates the private security industry, to consider how its voluntary Approved Contractor Scheme can help to further drive quality standards in security provision.”

Separately, it emerges that the National Counter-Terrorism Office is looking to develop a voluntary Competent Person scheme. According to Lord Sharpe, the Competent Person Scheme will involve a Competent Person in the Workplace qualification and the Counter-Terrorism Security Specialist Register.

“The latter,” explained Lord Sharpe, “will recognise existing skills and qualifications within the sector, while also providing reassurances for businesses that a counter-terrorism specialist has the necessary skills to appropriately advise on risk and suitable mitigation measures.”

Security Industry Authority Review 2016-2017

In its 76-page document entitled the Security Industry Authority Review 2016-2017, published back in June 2018, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) asserted that “much of the private security industry adopts high professional standards”.

Alongside discussion of the “range of sanctions” (for proven transgressions of the Private Security Industry Act 2001) being “limited” at the time of the 2016-2017 Review and the “perception of minimal enforcement activity” generating a “lack of confidence” in the regulator across some sectors of the industry, there was also a concise recommendation made in relation to business licensing.

In the 2016-2017 Review, that recommendation stated: “All businesses offering security services, whether operating under contract or operating in-house where there is a risk to public protection, safeguarding and national security, should be subject to a business licensing scheme linked to a system of private security industry standards on a mandatory basis. Business licenses should only be issued to companies who meet the [revised] Approved Contractor Scheme standards.”

Much talk in the industry at the time – and, indeed, subsequently – has suggested that the process of accountability brought forward by business licensing would only serve to enhance standards still further and eventually erode – perhaps to the very point of extinction – the unwelcome cohort of companies continuing to trade without benefit of ACS registration.

In real terms, it’s fair to state that there has been little in the way of Parliamentary updates on the licensing regime post-2014. As mentioned, this situation has changed of late – to a degree, at least – with the Parliamentary question re: business licensing in relation to Martyn’s Law.

Bureaucracy and red tape

It’s of little surprise that the Government has referenced the fact that it’s “not persuaded” on the need for such licensing given that the Conservative Party isn’t known to be in favour of what might be deemed by some to be unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape.

Across the years, many industry practitioners have voiced the strong opinion that business licensing should have been the first port of call on the SIA’s establishment rather than the licensing of individuals. It’s too late to turn back the clock, of course, but perhaps now – with the advent of the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill – is the opportune juncture for the private security industry to crank up the volume, air its views on this matter and, what’s more, make sure those views are heard as the proposed legislation is fed through the customary passage to the House of Lords.

From the perspective of many practitioners in the private security industry, the time is surely long overdue in terms of the point at which business licensing is either debated seriously and at length, and then brought forward, or otherwise consigned to the ideas of the past.

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