Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists
Professor Mark Button, Director of Centre for Counter Fraud Studies at University of Portsmouth (UK)
Richard Franken, Director at Franken Security Solutions (Netherlands)
Pieter Leloup, Postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University, Faculty of Law and Criminology (Belgium)
Adrian Moore, Operations Director UK & Europe at Allied Universal (UK)

Key points

Adrian Moore starts by highlighting the enormity and expanse of private sector security provision, dwarfing what the State provides. The cuts to public spending on the police have increased reliance on private security. He promotes the role of regulation in facilitating co-operative working and pays particular heed to the need for effective information sharing. You will hear him point to examples and highlight that there are too many exceptions due in no small part to a lack of trust – potentially on both sides. There has been an historical lack of investment in private security, it is still often viewed as a grudge purchase, even amongst state buyers. Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for the good side of security work to be recognised, the key worker status (which was hard fought for) has been important. The security sector needs to do its part too, companies cannot allow low standards, that fuels the scepticism that already abounds.

Richard Franken declares himself a big fan of partnerships, and harnessing the best of both public and private provision for the public benefit. He introduces the Dutch idea of ‘cold water fear’, the concern about ‘what might go wrong’ which pervades public attitudes towards working with the private sector. He promotes the need to market the good examples and take small steps to change things for the better.  

He reiterates the concerns raised by Adrian Moore about public sector procurement behaviours, and the mistake of the state wanting low prices above quality, and would like to see a focus on solving problems and responding to risks rather than providing a set product or service. In the Netherlands the police is also pressed, staff are leaving; Richard argues that we need to rethink security as essential and encourages countries to adopt a national security agenda and for change with private security at its heart.

Pieter Leloup feels the role of the State should be neutral, one of regulatory arbiter, and be there to search for compromises between commercial realties and the need for companies to make profits against the need to ensure rights are protected and social justice is maintained. In short, he feels the State should be the guardian of the public interest while initiating partnerships, encouraging investment, and promoting understanding amongst those State agencies that have most to gain from being involved with the private sector. He highlights what he sees as some of the focal points for overcoming barriers to more effective collaboration: language differences, culture too, jealousies can’t be ignored either.

Mark Button also points to the bigger size of the private security sector, and how essential it is pointing specifically to its primary role in different types of situational crime prevention. He sits on the side of the State being interventionist – the UK and Ireland provide reference points for thinking about best practices – not least because the security sector is so important there are or can be serious public ramifications if it fails. He notes too that you can’t force groups or sectors to work together, you can set standards but collaboration is more dynamic than that and there is a need for incentivisation. The role of the State to outsource to cut costs rather than harness benefits is key. Interesting, he recommends that Governments should consider setting up a special committee bringing together all the key actors to bring forward a plan and strategy to enhance the effective engagement of private security: a National Council for Enhancing Security.

There is so much potential and so many longstanding barriers to effective engagement. Mark Button’s idea of a national council makes so much sense. The truth of the matter is that the private sector is too important not to engage, we just need to persuade the right people so that can be recognised, if we don’t, the real losers are the public.