Security service providers – how to choose the right one for you
There are now more than 7,000 companies registered in the UK providing security services. What do these companies offer and how do you choose the right one for your business?
Much has changed in the last decade for security companies. Their services can now be much broader than just the provision of security officers. Many offer a suite of security-related services with technology playing a significant role. Whether you are procuring security services or looking to develop your security career, what does today’s security services provider offer?
The primary role of security companies is to protect people and property through the provision of security staff and supporting technology. According to a recent IBISWorld report, there are currently more than 7,000 private security companies in the UK, with a market size of £8bn, employing nearly 200,000 – another report puts this figure at 300,000. This compares with 136,000 police officers currently in the UK, according to Statista. The recent government report from the SIA on numbers of licensed security officers shows about 375,000 active licences (this doesn’t include those working in-house). But the role of the security service provider clearly involves more than guarding.
Those working in the security sector must understand and adhere to a range of related regulations. The Private Security Industry Act (2001) was brought in to set, maintain and raise the standards of the UK’s private security industry. It created the Security Industry Authority (SIA), an independent body that reports to the Home Secretary. Its aims are to regulate the private sector security industry effectively, to reduce crime, raise standards and recognise quality service.
Martyn’s Law – otherwise known as the Protect Duty – will come into force soon and aims to reduce the risk to the public from terrorism by the protection of public venues. This legislation will have implications for those in the security sector.
Other related legislation that may impact on the work of those working in security includes the Fraud Act 2006, the Terrorism Act 2006, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Accreditations and licensing
There are no mandatory licensing or accreditation schemes for security service providers. Nevertheless, there are a number of schemes that security providers can qualify for. The Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) managed by the SIA is a voluntary quality assurance scheme where companies are measured against 89 indicators of achievement. There are several assessing bodies for this, such as BSI, NSI and SSAIB.
As well as ACS, many companies choose to apply other quality assurance schemes such as ISO 9001, established by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), which demonstrates their commitment to a quality service and ISO/IEC 27001, which assesses information security management.
Individuals working in front-line security roles require an SIA licence. In fact, it is a criminal offence to engage in licensable activities – like door supervision, close protection and public space surveillance using CCTV – without a licence. The directors and managers of security services companies must also hold non-front line security licences. The SIA ensures these regulations are enforced and individuals are regularly prosecuted for related offences such as supply of unlicensed operative and contravention of a condition of an SIA licence.
In order to hold an SIA licence, you must receive training and achieve the appropriate qualifications from an approved training provider.
In 2021, the SIA made changes to the licence meaning holders must have first aid and related training and certification. It should be noted that security officers who are employed in-house are not required to have a licence (unless working in liquor licensed premises).
Range of services offered
The vast majority of security service companies will provide security officers (sometimes known as manned guards). They will carry out a range of roles such as such as security patrols, CCTV monitoring and alarm response, and this will be supplemented by related services such as securing vacant properties and key holding. They will also offer linked services like Front of House staff. Many companies now offer a complete solution with integrated technology, so may install and maintain access control systems, CCTV and other surveillance and security systems.
The provision of detection and patrol dogs is a key service offered by a number of security service providers. Using their hunt and prey drives, dogs can be trained to detect a wide range of items, such as drugs, explosives, currency and mobile phones. This means dog teams can provide a rapid, non-intrusive screening service. Dog teams work alongside other security personnel and technology, as part of an overall provision.
We asked Barrie Millett, Director of Intelligence Operations, Security and Business Services, Mitie, how have the range of services offered by security providers has evolved? “The security landscape is continuously evolving, with intelligence-led services now the gold standard for the industry. As such, we’re now seeing an ever-increasing convergence between security and digital technology to provide a range of security services that go beyond the ‘traditional’ guarding and protection work the industry has long been associated with.
“The adoption of new and different technologies including AI, IP and cloud-based systems, and remote managed services, has seen the evolution of intelligent fire and security systems that provide customers with ‘real-time’ insights and data analytics that help to increase security, and mitigate risks, as well as increasing operational efficiencies.”
Specialist or Generalist?
Some security service providers specialise in specific areas of industry; for example, events, retail or aviation. There are pros and cons to using a provider with or without specialist services. We asked some leaders in the field to comment:
Gary Sullivan OBE, chairman at Wilson James, says: “If your organisation is ‘niche’ or predominantly in one sector, then there may be benefits to having a specialist contractor. However, a better option may be one who can give you breadth and depth from elsewhere in the company. A provider that has a network of subject matter experts, to call on as required, will be able to offer greater agility when managing a changing threat landscape. Rarely is the security threat so specific that you need full-time specialists. The two obvious contradictions are cyber and close protection.”
If your organisation has highly specialised requirements, for example aviation, then there may be benefits to working with a security provider that specialises in this. Andy Kynoch, Managing Director – ICTS UK & Ireland, says: “They will have the processes and systems in place to follow strict protocols and procedures as the aviation industry is governed by extremely rigid international and national regulations. These regulations establish standards and best practices and ensure a consistent and uniform approach to aviation security globally.”
Kieran Mackie, MD at Amulet, has similar views when it comes to luxury retail: “Having a specialist team that recognises heightened security measures required for designer brands and stores is necessary for businesses to feel comfortable. Not only do they guarantee a great security service, but they also understand a client’s needs to reflect the luxury element of their brand. Security might be a customer’s first point of contact when they enter the store, so ensuring they are both professional and in line with the brand’s image is essential. A specialist provider will understand these niche needs better than a general security company.”
The extended policing family
There are established partnerships and collaborations between private security and public sector law enforcement, including policing, the other emergency services, local authorities and government departments. This means that private security companies are sometimes referred to as part of the ‘extended policing family’.
Jon Felix, Risk and Threat Advisor at CIS Security, says: “Police and Security (PAS) is more evident and more vital than ever before. Private security provides more and more shared resources, services and initiatives. Clients are opening up their environments for initiatives such as dedicated Servator training sites, live environments for K9 teams and BID engagement. These shared opportunities are also demonstrating that the quality of security being delivered, and in some cases the level of training, is equal to that of the police.
“Barriers are being overcome; where previously security was seen as lower level than the police, the growth of the PAS is showing this is not the case. I know from first-hand experience we are being engaged more and more as a force multiplier. There’s still some way to go but with the right people driving this from both private and law enforcement sides, the extended family will get stronger and in my opinion it has to.”
Changing role: part of the business
The role of security service providers is continually evolving. During the past few years, the high-profile role of security during the pandemic has accelerated this change. Many security providers report being viewed as an integral part of all our clients’ teams.
Scott Gough, MD at UniTrust, says: “We are trusted to deliver far more than the security personnel to physically protect people and places. We are relied upon to share intelligence, bring new ideas to the table, be innovative, and use the best security technologies and ways of thinking when it comes to providing security. Above all, we are expected to have the skills to anticipate, analyse and deliver every possible risk scenario for our clients and mitigate against them.”
Barry Dawson at Wilson James agrees that there has been a huge change in the role of security companies: “We are now expected to manage and operate Security Operation Centres (SOCs) and Global Security Operation Centres (GSOC)s on behalf of clients and drive other areas such as Equality, Diversity and Sustainability. We are evolving into a true partner with clients.”
Security staff training and development is a crucial area. Neill Catton, Managing Director at CIS Security, commented: “In the 80s and 90s, the training academies of organisations such as Group 4 and Sabrewatch were excellent. Later, market pressure created a reduction in staff development as margins were reduced. But discerning customers now understand the value of professional security officers more than ever and employee development is much higher on the agenda.”
Barrie Millett from Mitie concludes: “The security industry has changed significantly over the past few decades, we’ve come a long way from simply providing ‘boots on the ground’. We’ve developed smart technology, become more agile in how we support our customers, and play a greater role in ensuring public safety.
“The use of digital technology has brought a new level of sophistication to security operations and, as a result, security teams now have access to key data and insights that can unlock information on crime trends, threat profiles, and crime risk profiles – all at the click of a button.
“Being agile is critical for security companies as it allows us to quickly react to challenges and remain resilient. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, this enabled us to rapidly mobilise support for the government in providing essential security services and key workers, such as running test centres or conducting security risk assessments for vaccine sites, and keep the nation moving at such difficult times.
“Security organisations are now responsible for more than just supporting customer operations, we also help to protect the public. As an example, working closely with other security stakeholders and emergency services, we design and co-ordinate enhanced training exercises for our customers. This ensures that blue light services are working collaboratively to prepare for major incidents, from protests to terrorist attacks, enabling quicker and slicker responses.
The perception of security
The public perception of private security in the UK has evolved too in the last decade. The British public now accept private security officers as legitimate and their perception and understanding of the role of private security is improving. But there is more to do. Scott Gough: “While our industry role has evolved, sadly I don’t think the perception outside of the industry has changed enough. If you think about recruitment as one example, I guarantee every security company will confirm how challenging it is to fill vacancies even when there is high unemployment. Security is often dismissed out of hand because there is a view that it is simply all about being a front-line worker, and it is not seen as a profession or credible career choice. We need to get people excited about our industry and view it as one that is progressive as well as somewhere you can have a rewarding and lifelong career.”
Barry Dawson agrees, pointing out that: “The Prime Minister thanked all security officers during the pandemic but procurement departments still view security as a ‘grudge purchase’ and perception from people outside the industry is poor. People believe there are few opportunities within the private security sector – however, I know loads of people that have had a great career in the security industry.”
Positive changes are occurring. Neill Catton, Managing Director at CIS Security, says: “Social media has helped businesses up their game on the recognition of individuals and teams. It has also provided an easily accessible platform for companies to measure themselves against others. Who doesn’t look at a competitor that posts innovation or a new contract without an element of self-reflection? The race to the bottom on cost has now become a race for recognition and good practice. If that helps to create a more professional forward-thinking security service, that must be a good thing for our industry as a whole.”
Partnership and Collaboration
Working in partnership is now an accepted way of working for security service providers. David Ward, DW Associates and founding member of the City Security Council, provides an example of the sector working in partnership to achieve common goals: “To my mind, creation of the City Security Council has been the primary catalyst for change within the security sector.”
“The CSC is a collective of over 40 security guarding companies that are committed to share best practice and intelligence, and to work on joint initiatives that would ultimately create a safer environment in the City of London.
“Founded after the Westminster Bridge attacks in 2017, the CSC has been proactively involved in multiple initiatives that demonstrate the practical impact of partnerships.
For example, the CSC has worked extensively with the SIA to support and lead a Skills Board with their support, designed and developed Hi-Visibility Partnership days with the City of London Police (CoLP), and in partnership with them and the City of London Corporation, we have implemented a new comms platform called City INTEL.
“This sits within the Joint Command and Control Room of the CoLP to allow two-way comms between the police and the security officers on the ground in the City, which means in times of crisis or major incidents our partnership can support one another effectively. Good communication is key to effective partnerships and I believe that is why the CSC is having such a major impact, to the extent that its model in the City of London is being looked at for other cities in the UK.”
Jon Felix adds: “The partnership approach is helping the security sector by allowing previously held convictions to be broken down. Previously, rival security companies would not openly engage with each other, especially at the ground level where we deal with incidents.
“Recent partnerships have shown that the essential work done by security teams is the same; we need to know what threats are imminent, risks, responding to these. Security companies are now actively engaged in localised forums, sharing intel and alerts, joint patrolling as a force multiplier, neighbouring control rooms and CCTV working in conjunction and not in silo. As a deployable force we have such an impact in where we work; lockdown demonstrated this so well.”
Security services providers will undoubtedly continue to develop to protect their clients and property from evolving threats and risks as well as help the people and organisations they support to achieve their goals. Scott Gough says: “Perhaps what is most telling in how we are evolving is if you consider the list of questions that security firms are asked when tendering for a security contract.
“The requirement for the role is way beyond delivering security. It is about how we present ourselves, how we can help our clients achieve their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments, where we can add value and how we can collaborate and work in partnership with them. We are completely comfortable that security has evolved in this way and feel that being viewed as a key part of our client’s property management strategy allows us to deliver even better security.”
Editor, City Security magazine