Security Industry Reputation & the Olympic Games

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The Olympic Games: has it tarnished the reputation of the Security Industry?

There were swathes of space in the press and media dedicated to the saga of security at the London Olympic Games, G4S’s inability to fulfil its contract and supply adequate numbers of security personnel. Many commentators at the time were saying that the debacle had set back the security industry by at least a decade. It was suggested that all the gains made by the licensing and closer policing of the industry had been lost, purely because of the inability of one contractor to fulfil its obligations. Others opined that the public view of contract security is now that it is all about poorly run, big businesses, operating at very high margins at the expense of the tax payer, who is footing the bill for the whole charade.

Talk to those working in the security industry, away from the South East, in areas that we cover, including Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and the surrounding areas and you will find a very different picture. Yes, there are some security operatives working on national contracts, for the larger sometimes multi-national companies, with hefty margins built in, with multiple manned sites and on pay rates well above the minimum wage. This does not represent reality for the vast majority of security workers, or indeed security companies, working outside of the South East Region.

What you will find is a host of professionally run smaller organisations, with full accreditation, insurances, and quality awards, giving quality service and fulfilling their contracts, despite sometimes tremendous difficulties. The margins these companies run on are not huge, with net profits at 3% and lower. The staff are not on £9 and £10 an hour, but more likely on minimum wage or just above. Both the Employer and Employee survive by being cheap, flexible and responsive, with a standard of quality far higher than might be expected for the rates being paid: this represents real value for money. They are likely to be SIA Approved Contractors, possess ISO 9001:2008 Quality Accreditation and possibly other memberships and qualifications. Many of these companies, however, are struggling to make ends meet and quite a few have disappeared into administration or liquidation over the last few years.

Why should this be the case? Many of their former clients have cut back on security cover because of the financial pressures of the recession, preferring increased risk over higher cost. Why employ a security guard during the night and weekends when it’s much cheaper to install a CCTV system? Ok, so the response to a break-in won’t be anywhere near as quick, won’t prevent a theft or improve Health and Safety on site, but it’ll keep the insurance company happy.

Some of their customers have been victims of the financial turmoil themselves and have been swallowed up by larger national companies. Their security needs are now met on nationwide contracts by the larger, national security contractors, and despite the customers’ complaints that service levels have dropped since changing-over, there is little they can do about it, as the security contract for the East Midlands is controlled by an anonymous Head Office in central London.

Other former customers are doing what they’ve done over the last few years of this austerity regime: buying their security as cheap as chips, using companies with no accreditation, little quality and offering little value for money. On the face of it they are very cheap, but there are a number of reasons why they may be so inexpensive and frequently legality is an issue. Paying cash in hand, using “sub-contractors”, evading PAYE and VAT and using unlicensed staff are all issues that should be considered when some contractors are willing to quote charge rates at the same level as it costs to legitimately employ someone on minimum wage.

So, there are good security companies out there, providing flexible, high quality services at value for money prices. Unfortunately they are being squeezed between big business buying up national contracts without providing flexibility or quality and cheap local non-accredited outfits providing neither quality, or value for money. Has the Olympics security debacle changed public perceptions of the industry? Possibly, though I feel it may last for a very limited period. Has it changed the reality of the security industry? Despite the furore, it’s still the same.

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