The Big Interview: Bill Butler, Security Industry Authority

By Adam Pescod

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Door supervisors, Security industry, Security

Butler: "This is about protecting the public, and the public includes the people who are working in the industry"
Butler: "This is about protecting the public, and the public includes the people who are working in the industry"
It is easy to have respect for somebody who has faced Lord Justice Leveson and come out the other side with their reputation intact. However, it is something else entirely to be called to the Leveson Inquiry with less than a week’s notice, only to find the indomitable judge in agreement with you.

“It was one of those things I would have put on my CV as a positive,” admits Bill Butler, as we look out over central London from the Security Industry Authority’s (SIA’s) headquarters in Holborn.

Butler was called to the inquiry in his capacity as a regulator, and argued that private investigators should be subject to regulation, a position that Leveson wholeheartedly endorsed.

You would think anyone tasked with regulating the security industry would have to be made of strong stuff. Yet, while it is obvious that Butler takes his job very seriously, by no means does he have the air of a man who grants licences to bouncers and security guards across the UK.

Maybe that is down to the public perception of doorstaff in the tabloids — a perception Butler believes continues to sully the name of the security industry.

“I feel quite strongly that door supervisors get a terrible press,” says Butler.

“Regularly, when I speak, I always talk about Raoul Moat [the fugitive who shot three people in the north-east in 2010 before going on the run and finally shooting himself as the police closed in] who was described in the newspapers as a bouncer, or former bouncer.

“Mr Moat had never been licensed, or worked as a bouncer — as far as we are aware. I think the last thing he did was landscape gardening, but nobody was saying ‘former landscape gardener’ or ‘former flower arranger’, and that is all part of the venom that is aimed at the door-supervisor sector.”

As recently reported in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser (PMA) Butler admits that door supervisors have been involved in a number of deaths, the majority of which are rarely picked up by the press.

In response, and following recommendations by the Home Office, the SIA has now made physical intervention training a mandatory condition of an individual’s licence application or renewal.

“This is about protecting the public,” says Butler. “And the public includes the people who are working in the industry.

“Deaths and serious injuries are consequences of that. However relatively rare they are in terms of the tens of thousands of people who pass through the night-time economy every weekend, you can’t let that lie. It is not sensible, it is not safe for the public, and it is not really safe for the people who are doing it.”

Raising the profile

Nevertheless, Butler believes that pub and club operators could do more to make security staff feel more valued, and therefore help shake off that less than favourable public image.

“It is quite amazing how often they (doorstaff) are divorced from the rest of the operation,” Butler says.

“They are on the door or standing in the back of the venue and are simply not integrated. They are not seen as part of the offering.

“I speak to people from the bigger pub chains and a key part of the offering is that doorstaff play a role in your whole evening’s entertainment.

“It protects the venue in terms of making sure that people who are underage, too drunk, or violent, don’t get in, but it is also part of the overall experience for people who are in there. You get it wrong at your peril.”

Butler understands that it is an additional source of expenditure for pubs, but with some venues having a provision for doorstaff attached to their premises licence, it is ultimately another “necessary burden” for licensees.

“I know from work that I do talking to door-supervision companies that margins are extremely tight in the trade, to the point sometimes that I wonder whether you can possibly be employing somebody who is properly equipped and skilled to do the job.

“I understand that if I was the licence holder, or the landlord, or the owner of a club, why I would want to keep my costs as low as possible, but on the other hand, the dangers — both in terms of compliance or regulation — and in terms of what happens to your punters if you don’t get this right, is a really difficult trade-off to make.

“So I understand I am a regulatory burden, which in an ideal world people might not want, but I think there are quite obviously dangers and risks to the public, and to the people working in the trade, of not getting this right.”

Butler adds: “My aim is to do that as cheaply as possible — but you can’t do it for free.”

Certainly, the SIA does seem to have made some positive progress under Butler’s guardianship.

He entered the role in May 2009, six months after former chief executive Michael Wilson had departed amid news that the SIA had received £17.4m of extra public funding as a result of administrative problems and ‘poor forecasting’ of licensing demands.

Since then, however, costs have been slashed from nearly £36m a year to £28m, which has allowed the organisation to reduce its fees by 10%. This means the cost of a three-year SIA licence now sits at £220.
Butler adds: “If I wanted to be particularly smug about it, we haven’t increased fees since 2007, so if you take inflation into account, the real cost to an individual for a licence is significantly lower.”

Changes

However, significant changes are afoot for the SIA, with a new regulatory framework expected to be announced imminently by the Home Office. The framework is to focus primarily on businesses, but Butler has nevertheless reassured all those SIA-licensed door supervisors who have invested in getting their badge that they will be “moved almost seamlessly” into the new regime.

“The intention is that their licences will still be valid — that somebody who is currently licensed as an individual won’t have to do very much at all. We won’t scrap what is there.

“Things are never as straightforward as you may wish, because there will be some sort of legislative framework that may say, ‘this is the hoop you have to jump through in order to be licensed as a business or registered as an individual’.

“But it won’t, if I have anything to do with it, require people to go back to square one. The whole point is that, and the ministers have said this, it should build on what is in place.”

Naturally, the organisation will not exist in the same way as it has but seemingly, according to Butler, the name could outlive the changes.

“It has taken since 2004 to establish the brand of the SIA and the last thing people would want is to have to start again and explain what is going on, with a new updated badge that nobody recognises.
“Maybe the right thing to do is to call it something else, and develop the brand, but I think the intention is, at least through the transition, to carry on being the SIA.”

And what of the man himself?

Some people aren’t too fond of change, but Butler accepts that change is necessary in this case.

As such, he is keen to carry on the work he began in 2009 and see it to its logical conclusion.

“At the moment, my intention is to carry on and nail what we started,” he says. “I recognise that we don’t do things perfectly, and I recognise you never can do things perfectly because what you have to do changes constantly — that you are only as good as the last thing you got right.

“It is not always comfortable to be regulated, and it is never cheap, but I have a lot of people poking me with a sharp stick to make sure we keep going in the right direction.”

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