In the run-up to the General Election, Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) across the UK are being bombarded with questions from tens of thousands of electors, as well as countless requests for support from charities and industries should they be elected. One such industry approach to PPCs has been put out by the Police Federation concerned about further cuts to policing.
The Federation is clearly deeply troubled, and the email to PPCs lays out a stark picture of the last four years that has seen the loss of nearly 17,000 police officers and approximately 22,000 police support staff. The number of police officers per head of population is now lower than at any time in the last 20 years. The email holds no punches in warning PPCs of the consequences of any further cuts, which includes a continued fall in visible neighbourhood policing, and stresses that ‘the service is at breaking point’.
It is widely agreed that this is one of the most important and unpredictable General Elections in living memory. Clearly it is for the Police Federation and for the state of policing in the future. And so by extension, the outcome of the General Election is hugely important for the security industry.
The austerity programme that has impacted on public sector services – and which in all likelihood will continue following the election – has not only impacted on policing. It has left councils struggling to balance books, forcing them to make cuts to a range of essential services, yet with a population that still has a rightful expectation to issues such as security in public places.
So what does this mean in practice for the security industry with regards to the public sector?
It means that, should policing suffer even further cuts, the industry will find it a more difficult process to effectively liaise with police. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has already warned that the Metropolitan Police would struggle to deal with missing persons in future, so we can safely assume that efficient liaison with private security companies is going to prove a challenge to resources.
Local authorities which can afford to retain all-important public security at parks and other public places will be desperate for added value. Indeed, added value and efficiency are going to be deal-breaking issues when councils put out tender for security contracts or review existing contracts. And with the police increasingly retracting out of the picture, that added-value efficiency will invariably mean covering the shortfall.
The question for the security industry is now; do we see the likelihood of further cuts in policing and ongoing austerity as a threat or an opportunity? The answer to that will very much depend on the individual supplier and whether they are prepared or indeed capable of stepping up to the plate to help local authorities. The innovative suppliers with the most effective organisations and management systems in place certainly do have an opportunity to ‘help out’ councils which are feeling the pinch. They can do this by illustrating how they will deliver wide ranging, multi-site security efficiently and cost effectively. And in a way that puts less onus on police involvement where possible.
The other way in which the industry can help to ease the strain placed on the public sector is through the promotion of initiatives such as the Cross-Sector Safety and Security Communications (CSSC) initiative. While ‘we’re all in it together’ is viewed as a discredited term, there is certainly some credence in the further development of collaboration to include the public sector where possible.
As an industry we must watch the forthcoming General Election carefully and look to predict the effects the outcome delivers. We should be proactive here and start planning now to ensure that, in the inevitable post-election confusion and panic, we are waiting with solutions in hand. Ultimately, isn’t that what security is all about?