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Exclusive Interview: Heather Baily QPM, Chair of the SIA


According to figures from its public statistical data set, the number of SIA licence holders in December 2021 was 391,706. Though this data has significantly fluctuated at various points throughout the course of the pandemic, September 2021 – as the SIA prepared to introduce new licence-linked qualifications in October – saw an unexpected surge of over 19,000 applications and renewals. Whilst this substantial figure does indicate a sense of strength and lateral growth across the UK private security industry, there is still plenty of work to be done behind the scenes to ensure that the sector can be one defined by depth, diversity and preparation – not just size.  

Though there were 391,706 licence holders as of December 2021, only 40,649 (10%) of this total number were women, a rather alarming statistic considering how much the security industry has recently invested in equality and inclusivity initiatives. Recognising the need to improve these figures and further professionalise licence-linked career roles, SIA Chair, Heather Baily QPM, is relishing the chance to improve public safety and perceptions of the industry across the board.

From policing to security

Appointed by the Home Office on a three-year term, Baily was announced as Chair of the SIA in June 2021. Before joining the organisation, like many in the industry, she worked as a senior police officer holding posts as Deputy Chief Constable for Hertfordshire Constabulary and was Deputy Chief Inspector with the Garda Inspectorate, Dublin. As well as being awarded The Queen’s Police Medal for services to policing in 2011, Baily currently serves as a Non-Executive Board Member for Dorset Healthcare NHS Trust. Baily explains: “I had the privilege of spending 27 years with the Metropolitan Police Service.

“I joined as a Constable having left school and I worked in a variety of posts. I was both a Uniformed Officer, as well as a CID Officer, and I worked my way up to the rank of Chief Superintendent. By the time I left the Met in 2007, I was the Borough Commander for Hammersmith and Fulham. The reason I stayed in policing for so long was that I had a real desire to support justice for people, particularly for those who are victims of crime. I did a lot of work supporting those who were vulnerable and this created a strong sense of professional drive for me.

“My time as Borough Commander was particularly interesting because I was responsible for policing, security and crime reduction in that part of London; this was challenging because there are three major football teams here – Chelsea, QPR and Fulham. Because all of these clubs have very unique dynamics, the way they are respectively managed also has to be different. I had to broaden my skillset so that I could manage the safety and security of a large number of people and I felt very privileged to have done that.”

After being promoted and moving away from London to Hertfordshire, Baily was made an Assistant Chief Constable before becoming the Deputy Chief Constable. “I was also the Regional Lead for Serious and Organised Crime on a strategic level,” she continues. “This is where I first truly became aware of the work of the SIA. After retiring from policing, I still retained a desire to play a part in community safety and that’s what has led me towards my current role at the organisation.”

An organisation that uses experience

A chance to join the SIA appealed to Baily for a number of reasons. Backed by supportive, forward-thinking initiatives, the organisation’s ongoing response to the questions posed in the Manchester Arena Inquiry is testament to the pragmatic attitude of its staff as well as the industry it represents. Baily illustrates: “The Manchester Arena attack has shaped much of our work and, in addition to this, the challenges of improving greater public safety, particularly for women and girls are very present.

“There is quite a clear role for a Chair in organisations such as the SIA; part of my responsibility is to ensure effective governance, that public money is being used properly and to work with Chief Executive, Michelle Russell, to develop the overall strategy of the organisation. I am very fortunate to work with an experienced and talented senior leadership team. I have gone out on some operations with our inspection and enforcement teams on the frontline and it has been very eye-opening to see the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry.”

Throughout the pandemic a range of complexities arose surrounding the protection of existing security staff from both a career and health perspective. As venues and major events closed, many frontline officers left traditional roles to secure more available jobs using their SIA licences. Pair this with the key challenges and lessons learned from terrorist incidents that have occurred in recent years, there is still plenty which can be done to ensure that licence holders are kept up to date and are briefed on issues related to counter-terror as well as day-to-day procedures.

Baily adds: “We have continued to create guidance and clarification about who needs to hold an SIA licence, something made more pertinent with the occurrence of security arrangement positions outside hospitals and retail outlets; we have also supported our approved contractors with temporary measures to assist them with their annual assessments. The pandemic has highlighted the need for us to continue our strategic priority within our digital and data strategy so that people can not only renew and apply for new licences online but engage with us easily through their online accounts.”

Preparations for the future

As well as the two monitored recommendations in the Manchester Arena Inquiry, some of the key observations were in regard to how the SIA was operating in 2017. Whilst many of these things have now been addressed, Baily explained that the organisation was continuing to learn from the report and recommendations so that it could ensure the way in which it operates is fit for purpose in 2022 and beyond. “The legislation that bought the SIA into being is almost 20 years old now so part of our thinking is to consider what changes are necessary to ensure we can operate effectively as a regulator in the future,” Baily clarifies.

“Throughout the last financial year we have looked to run a minimum of three joint partnership events with police, emergency stakeholders and the industry to test resilience and preparedness for terrorism related incidents; we held one in Chesterfield in September 2021 and another in London in October at The Cuckoo Club.

“With more planned in 2022 around the UK, these operations have been built around terrorist and acid attack-based scenarios where we can run through best practices and procedures. Not only do these operations raise awareness of the role of the SIA, but they raise the profile of the private security industry to show how valuable they are to public safety. When one of these incidents happens in real life, there is very limited thinking time.

“In tandem to running emergency scenario planning in venues, another of our priorities is to support the UK Government’s aim to reduce violence against women and girls and, in particular, the trend of spiking both inside and outside of bars and clubs. With this in mind, we have initiated several actions now to ensure that the private security industry can support the safety of women and girls; we have contacted all of our frontline licence holders to remind them of their responsibilities to support anybody who may be vulnerable or at risk. Moreover, in the months leading up to Christmas, our inspection and enforcement teams were out in university cities and towns around the UK speaking to operatives about their role. On a strategic level, we are working with the Home Office teams and we are linked in with Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, the national lead for reducing violence against women and girls.”

As well as developing a skills strategy, another priority for the SIA is diversity, equality and inclusion. This is a key objective in the SIA’s three year corporate strategy and the organisation has also been focussing on the mental health agenda for front line operatives and increasing the presence of women in the security industry as its main goals.

Baily concludes: “A part of my role as Chair of the SIA is trying to change perceptions of the industry so that working in security is seen as attractive to people from all backgrounds, particularly for women. A key priority for me is to try and delete the word ‘bouncer’ from the vocabulary of the media – this narrative has to change. If you look at the skill requirements needed for a Door Supervisor Licence, it is far more comprehensive than many people imagine, especially when you start looking at the first aid, counter terror and confrontation management aspects.  

“The private security industry is broad and it covers everything from door supervision roles to guarding, CCTV, close protection and cash in transit roles. If you want to gain a really interesting and useful skillset, a career in private security is an excellent route to go down. The industry has a lot to be proud of and the SIA only wants to continue to promote the advancements it has made.”

To find out more information about the work of the SIA, visit: www.gov.uk

This article was originally published in the January 2022 edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.