Coming out fighting

Related tags Sia Police

Daniel Pearce hears both sides of the arguments over SIA licensing.There were high hopes a month ago that the licensed trade could broker a peace...

Daniel Pearce hears both sides of the arguments over SIA licensing.

There were high hopes a month ago that the licensed trade could broker a peace deal with the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and work together on a mutual solution to the impending crisis over doorstaff. The pub and club industry wants to sit down and talk - but the SIA has its own people on the door and doesn't wish to let them in.

According to trade estimates, as many as eight out of 10 doorstaff will have failed to obtain a licence when the new registration scheme goes fully live on April 11.

A recent letter to the Home Office, signed by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), the BII and the Bar Entertainment and Dance Association (BEDA) claimed the industry was facing a shortfall of 83,000 door workers - meaning that many late-night venues could be forced to close until they can appoint licensed doorstaff.

The trade has repeatedly expressed concern at the way the SIA has handled applications and how the scheme has been publicised to doorstaff. Yet the SIA is vowing that the new system will go ahead - and in a series of increasingly confrontational public statements is denying that it is to blame for the lack of licences issued. "We will not allow the leisure and security industries to hide their own mismanagement by 'smoke-screening' with allegations about the SIA," declared SIA deputy chief executive Andy Drane.

Shoulder-to-shoulder

Both sides put their case at a private meeting with MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group in Westminster last week.

Luminar Leisure director Steve Dennis, who represented BEDA at the meeting, said the fact that, for once, all members of the licensed trade had stood "shoulder-to-shoulder" on the issue was indicative of how seriously it was being viewed.

"All sections of the licensed on-trade were united in seeking some opportunity to work with the SIA, and to create a co-operative and flexible climate within which to meet our mutually-shared objective: to establish an adequate and fully licensed door supervisor scheme," he said. "The MPs seemed to grasp the scope of the problem and asked challenging questions of the SIA."

The licensed trade wants to see the April 11 start date put back to allow for more time for licence applications, and for some system of provisional licensing set up in the interim.

Beer Group chairman John Grogan has written his own letter to the Home Office, demanding action before April 11.

The clock is ticking

The clock has been ticking on the doorstaff registration scheme since August 2003, as the licence has been brought in around the country. First in Hampshire last June and in the South West in August problems arose for pubs and clubs as the deadlines passed and there was a shortage of doorstaff. The SIA, the police and local authorities, which enforce the law, have been allowed a degree of discretion, although prosecutions and closures have taken place.

Without a formal move now from the Home Office, BEDA chief executive Jon Collins warns that much of the country could be relying on their local police to use their discretion if pubs and clubs are to avoid possible closures, fines and prison sentences.

Mr Collins queries why the SIA is taking such a hard line. "The greater the problem has become, the more you feel the SIA has taken a tougher line. It has decided that's the best way to get operators to apply," he says. "The SIA has said it's not going to use a carrot and stick approach - it's just going to use a big stick."

BEDA has said since the beginning of the scheme that it wanted the tools to be able to carry out bulk applications, and to monitor individual applications. Now it simply wants concessions - any concessions - that will stem mass closures of its members' venues.

"We don't see any problem with the SIA saying if you've applied you're reducing the chances of being prosecuted," says Mr Collins. "But it is reluctant to say that."

Reluctant is putting it mildly. The SIA complains that it has repeatedly warned the trade about the chronic lack of applications, and has run a "widespread publicity campaign" to publicise the new licences. "Following experiences in the early regions, we reinforced to industry leaders that they needed to apply more planning and management to the problem," continued Mr Drane.

"Although we are not perfect, we are processing most applications in a reasonable time. The SIA is not the problem - the problem is that not enough people have applied for their licence in time."

The SIA illustrates the point by stating that less than five weeks ahead of the April 11 start date it had received applications from only 10 per cent of London's door supervisors - even though it widely stated that most applications take six weeks. "This clearly shows that the main problem is not with SIA processing but with the poor management of the situation by those who employ and contract door supervisors," claimed Mr Drane.

Court action

Whoever is to blame, there is now a pressing need for a statement from the Home Office, to direct the SIA and the police to allow some delay to the new system.

Matters may be hastened by court action being brought by door workers union FEDS. It believes that, as well as the £190 fee and costs of up to £400 for the required training, door workers are also being deterred from applying by unnecessarily strict criteria to prove themselves as being "fit and proper".

Now FEDS is taking the SIA to court in attempt to get it to soften its stance "so that decent men and women are able to continue to work within the private security industry".

The problems are piling up for the SIA. But while it continues to concentrate its efforts on blaming others, rather than ensuring the scheme launched successfully, it cannot complain if it is accused of putting its head in the sand.

'The SIA has said it's not going to use a carrot and stick approach - it's just going to use a big stick'
Jon Collins, chief executive, BEDA

'We will not allow the leisure industry to hide its own mismanagement with allegations about the SIA'
Andy Drane, deputy chief executive, SIA

The SIA timetable

The SIA licence has been introduced progressively across the country since March 2004. Applications began in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and have continued progressively across the English regions and Wales. London became the final region to begin accepting applications in January 2005.

From April 11, it will be a legal requirement for doorstaff to in England and Wales to hold the new licence - and for venue operators to make sure that this is the case.

The SIA has warned that premises licence holders risk losing their licences if they fail to ensure their doorstaff are licensed.

Will pubs be forced to close?

Could pubs and bars really be forced to close after April 11? Well yes, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) which still maintained last week that it is ready to fully enforce the law.

"From April 11, door supervisors will have to hold an SIA door supervisor licence and the police service will take action against those who break the law, be they the door supervisors or those who employ them," said Metropolitan Police Service Commander Chris Allison, who leads the ACPO on licensing issues.

Jon Collins, chief executive of BEDA, believes that many pubs and cl

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