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Published: January 28, 2015

We are living through a period of increasing threats worldwide, with a clearly identified move in the UK threat level from Moderate to Severe, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely. This is further supported in briefings from the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who states that, whilst many attacks have been prevented, the threat is clear and serious and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, expressing that we face the “greatest and deepest threat” in the country’s history.

Terrorism is not the only threat the country faces, with decreasing numbers of police officers and increasing levels of fraud and cyber-crime, which is ranked as a major threat to our National Security Strategy, business and individuals face uncertain and almost hidden dangers. Indeed, many just ‘bury their heads in the sand’ through lack of knowledge or, for some, it is simply not having the time to deal with potential risks.

The vast majority of Individuals should have an expectation of living a normal life and are rarely exposed to the horrors of terrorism, fraud and cyber-crime. However, with the daily media concentration on the bad news, members of the public face ever increasing anxiety about these threats regardless of personal experiences. The public has an expectation that they will be safe and protected when at home, in public and in their working environment and it is particularly in the working environment that the private security industry largely delivers this reassurance.

Over the last ten years, the private security industry has seen eroding margins, seemingly accelerated since the financial crisis of 2008, and the unintended consequence of this can be seen in there being a general reluctance and reduced opportunity for investment into security personnel or client partnerships. The reducing margins that suppliers are having to contend with in highly competitive tendering and the limited profitability of many security companies ensure a perfect storm of very low profits, minimal investment and, in the case of some companies we have seen over the last few years, a struggle to continue trading.

The real damaging effect of low margins is a lack of investment in personnel, little or no training, reduced morale and, ultimately, a reduction in performance and, therefore, an increase in risks. Other than for client specific training requirements, it is extremely difficult to provide ongoing security related training as removing personnel from their work environment is prohibitively expensive unless paid for by the client and, with the downward spiral of margins in contract procurement, this seems unlikely in most instances.

In the best case scenario, margins within the security industry will stabilise. However, further margin erosion is the more likely outcome, so how does the private security industry react? This could be achieved through reducing overheads, smarter use of technology and/or working more efficiently along with specialisation in a wider range of security services.

This broader range of security services could provide a platform for continued security specialisation with the advantages that come with a co-ordinated protection of assets and people from a single source of security expertise working closely in support of the police and offering a complete package of risk management with a variety of highly specialised employees operating at an international level.

For other security companies, the way forward may involve offering a wider range of FM services, either through security companies taking on additional non-security related services or through being acquired by larger organisations, either FM or security.

Looking to the future, it is inevitable that the private security industry is likely to see growing use of technology, including miniaturisation of drone and surveillance equipment along with smarter use of increasingly capable software, which is likely to see the numbers of security personnel reducing or, at the very least, not increasing. With greater demands required of future roles and responsibilities for security personnel, development and ongoing training will become essential in maintaining the maximum protection capability.

Ultimately, the question that needs to be asked is what does society want from the private security industry?