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Why collaboration is the key to success as the world emerges from the Pandemic

Intersec's editor Gary Wright in conversation with John MacAskill, Director at the British Security Industry Association.

John MacAskill is one of the UK security sectors most well-known faces. He joined the BSIA five years ago and is its Director of Security & Export.

Here he talks about the challenges of reopening as governments began to relax Covid lockdown restrictions, how facial recognition tech may be regulated in the UK and why collaboration is vital to make cyber security better. And while the Pandemic has damaged all sectors, John reveals some of the positives he sees emerging from the worldwide disruption of the past 18 months.


Gary Wright: What effect has the Covid pandemic had on the BSIA focus over the past year?

John MacAskill: The pandemic has affected every person and business across the world in one way or another and the security industry is not excluded. As the professional security industry trade body our duty is not only to support our members but also to set foundations and examples for the wider industry. Although we as an industry are not immune from the impact of COVID, we have shown how resilient the industry is and we believe security will continue to fare well beyond the pandemic.

In early March 2020 as the potential for a first lockdown was announced we lobbied the Government for key worker classification status for those operating in the professional security industry. We created templates for members to use if travel restrictions were implemented and dedicated part of our website to be a suppository of correct and up-to-date information as the pandemic progressed.

The national media kept us as a primary point of contact throughout this period, especially as security presence grew in essential retail. We launched numerous campaigns during this time to help those affected sectors, such as ‘the Hidden Workforce’ campaign, which tackled the perceptions of the security officer and what we can do to change this, and Cash is a SAFE Choice, which highlighted the need for cash in society and the safety of it despite a global pandemic.

We know there is always more that can be done and we encourage members to reach out to us if they have any concerns they feel we can assist with.

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Gary Wright: Tell us about your membership and the differing ways in which the pandemic has changed their operations.

John MacAskill: Sadly, the pandemic created many issues for the professional security industry, especially as some sectors were more adversely affected than others, i.e. aviation, night time economy, events, hospitality, cash & valuables in transit, and more. However, one of the positives during 2020 has been the rapid increase in the acceptance and adoption of technology.

We saw the increase of digital remote working solutions, contactless entry/exits, adoption of thermal imaging cameras, occupancy and people flow management – all potential solutions to address the issues created by the pandemic. The professional security industry is both proactive and adaptive to sudden changes to market requirements, hence the resilience it has shown during these difficult times. Additional technology solutions are also available but they do need our industry to promote and where applicable help regulate their ethical and legal usage, such as our recently produced industry-first guide on artificial intelligence (AI) and Automated Facial Recognition (AFR), which is close to becoming a British Standard in 2023 and our award-winning code of practice on cybersecurity, produced by our Cyber Assurance Product Assurance Group (CySPAG), which has also developed into a cybersecurity registration scheme for manufacturers.

This year also saw us launching a major research report into the video surveillance market in the United Kingdom. The report, titled The Bigger Picture, is an extensive update to the BSIA's research report of 2013, The Picture is Not Clear, which has been quoted by the trade and mainstream media worldwide, the quality of which has never been surpassed in the intervening time. It extends much further than the original report and is hailed to be the most comprehensive study of the number, type and use of video surveillance cameras in the UK ever undertaken.

Gary Wright: How do you think your members have responded to the challenges of the pandemic?

John MacAskill: As the leading trade association of the professional security industry this only works with trusted engagement from our member companies of the security industry. We work with these members in a lot of ways to support their part in our industry; i.e. to drive and develop standards, to lobby on their behalf, to raise perceptions, tackle difficult issues and to work with their businesses to raise their profile and support their growth, celebrate best practice and really try to give them a commercial edge where we can.

The pandemic sparked many challenges for our industry sectors, but the reason we can demonstrate our successes now is through some of the amazing collaborative efforts our members have shown throughout. Their time and dedication spent with the BSIA teams sharing expert knowledge and advice from the front line has been a driving force behind how we describe ourselves to our wider audience – namely, The Voice of the Professional Security Industry.

Gary Wright: What do you believe are the key challenges for over the next 12 months?

John MacAskill: In terms of our security officer services members one of their biggest concerns is recruitment and retention. The UK’s private security industry must recruit, train and license more than 62,000 new security officers over the next 12 months to keep up with the growing demand for their services and keep the public safe and to meet the demand we launched in 2022 a major national initiative, ‘People, Property, Places: Professionally Protected’, to increase awareness of the crucial work that security officers carry out 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also highlights that a career in professional security offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities that are open to anyone, from any background, ethnicity, sexuality and age group.

Research conducted amongst BSIA members, who provide over 70 per cent of private security services in the UK, indicates that the UK’s private security sector needs to boost the number of licensed security officers by 62,000 to more than 450,000 over the next 12 months to meet growing demand and departures from the sector. The industry anticipates losing almost 20,000 officers from its workforce through factors including retirement and departures following Brexit and Covid-19.

In terms of our own challenges: the BSIA leads the Police and Security (PaS) group to develop positive partnerships between our police authorities and private security companies. This is an area of increasing focus currently, as organisations across the UK look to co-operate and reduce the security risk of ‘grey spaces’ that sit between public and ‘pseudo’ public sector responsibility.  The scope of responsibility will be laid out in Protect Duty (based around Martyn’s Law) that has come about as a result of the Manchester Arena Bombing enquiry, which has moved ahead another step in the legislative process in December, with draft legislation set to be published in spring 2023.

Aside from this we are heavily involved in the Electronic Call Handling Operations (ECHO) Project, Next Generation Networks/the All-IP Transition, and any effects of the UK Transition out of the EU. There is a lot to do to enable the public, business and the industry to adapt to any changes arising – which is why we are working to support them as best we can.

Additionally, we will continue to support the sectors most adversely affected throughout the pandemic with one step being the launch of significant interest groups to target key issues that need addressing in the short term.

Gary Wright: Do you believe that the UK’s departure from the EU will have any effect on the way your UK members operate? Positives or negatives.

John MacAskill: We have a significant interest group set up for the consequences of the UK Transition and its popularity is growing with the number of challenges companies are facing. Some of the main topics focus on supply issues, postal and customs changes, as well as the changes to standards which affect certain product markings.

Many of our members operating in the EU are keen to work on the challenges they are facing and  to share first-hand knowledge of the effects this has on their business. With this we can begin solutions and get in touch with the right contacts and Governing bodies if need be.

No one knows what the long-term effects of Brexit will be, but as in previous answers our industry is strong and will stand up to whatever comes its way with professionalism and a renewed vigour.

We should remember some of the best security companies in the world are British - we set the standard for so much of what "good" looks like, what best practice is and what we should be doing as a minimum requirement in certain sectors within the industry. I do not think our EU departure is going to change that.

Gary Wright: Facial recognition. The BSIA introduced its Ethical Automated Facial Recognition Framework earlier this year; this was a first aiming at the responsible and ethical use of AFR. How has it been received and tell us the level of interest both in the UK and worldwide?

John MacAskill: The framework started with us and our members putting across the industry’s views to government and pressure groups which must be continued to be swiftly built upon. Our recently published guide to legal and ethical use of AI and AFR is in the closing stages of becoming a British Standard that can be adopted by businesses operating in the AFR space after being well received nationally and internationally.

Publishing this framework was timeous as the topic of AI and AFR continues to dominate headlines in the press with the European Commission recently deeming the technology as “high-risk”, parts of China using the technology in what seems an unethical manner, and the USA banning its use in many states.

The UK is yet to give a formal response, which will be very much in line with the protections around public privacy (ie Data Protection Act and GDPR), and the BSIA will continue to represent the industry with relevant government departments, championing the acceptance and usage of AI, AFR, Live Facial Recognition (LFR) and other biometric technologies whilst driving commitment to the new guidance document.

Gary Wright: Also your new code of practice relating to cybersecurity aimed at end users released this year. Tell us why you feel it's necessary and how has it been received so far?

John MacAskill: Here at the BSIA we have long considered and debated how our industry sector can provide effective cyber secure solutions to end-users via its supply chain and we feel that to do this our supply chains must find ways to collaborate and support processes that achieve this.

The publication of this new code of practice now provides a complete process for supply chains when utilised together with installers adhering to the Installation of safety and security systems – cyber security code of practice. This should provide peace of mind for end users in terms of cyber security of their systems, not only when they are installed but throughout the entire contract period.

The release of this code of practice is the next step in acknowledging a collective stakeholder effort of installers, manufacturers, and designers in providing a cyber secure solution.

We hope to continue to drive the sector forward with this practical approach when addressing and managing cyber security risks. The idea is to steer safety and security practitioners into thinking outside the box on using new technology and equipping our industries with professional tools for the future.

Gary Wright: Tell us something about you personally and your involvement in the security industry and the BSIA’s future goals.

John MacAskill: My role is to liaise and join forces with Government and International representatives by creating the close connections needed to tackle any issues our members are currently facing.

I recently completed my Continued Professional Development (CPD) training with the Security Institute as I wanted to demonstrate its importance within the professional security industry. This reminded me of the importance of training in our industry – whether it’s top-up training, CPD courses, or apprenticeships which are slowly but surely closing the skills gap we are facing. It is a topic which can never be talked about enough and there are still 30,000 engineers needed, plus many other roles to be filled by the next generation.

The BSIA future goals include continued UK Security Industry representation within the wider UK economic framework and at government level United Kingdom Defence & Security Exports (UKDSE) & Joint Security & Resilience Centre (JSaRC)) as well as various bodies internationally; ongoing support to industry certification bodies; demonstrating the value of membership through lobbying, communications and a strong voice. There are many projects we are working on through various committees with there never being a better time to be part of a trade association.

Gary Wright: Thank you for your time speaking with us at IntersecLive and sharing your knowledge. Any final thoughts you’d like to share with readers.

John MacAskill: I would like to take a moment to mention just how far both the BSIA and Skills for Security have progressed in the last two years. Both teams have worked incredibly hard especially during the pandemic and the switch to remote working. Skills for Security is now the largest fire and security apprenticeship provider in England and continues to grow day by day.

I would like to thank both teams for all their hard work and also our members and industry partners for their continued engagement and support as we continue to progress the association during 2023 and beyond. 

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The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) is the trade association for the professional security industry in the UK.

Its members are responsible for more than 70 per cent of private UK security products and services, including the manufacture, distribution and installation of electronic and physical security equipment and the provision of security guarding and consultancy services. Membership includes global companies as well as small and medium enterprises all offering quality products and services to a vast spectrum of end-users.

The BSIA is the voice of the professional security industry in the UK and recognised around the world. Discover more HERE 

October 2021
With picture of John MacAskill
By Gary Wright – Intersec Editor