Practical Advice

An Overview of the U.K.’s Private Security Landscape and Key Security Considerations for U.S. Companies

About the Author

Matthew Grimley

Senior Communications Executive, British Security Industry Association

Security must be a key consideration for any U.S. business that is looking to expand operations to the U.K. With such a diverse range of security products and services available in the U.K., choosing the most appropriate solutions can be a daunting prospect. Matthew Grimley of the British Security Industry Association – the trade body representing the U.K.’s private security industry – gives an overview of the current landscape and some of the solutions available to U.S. businesses.

The U.K. Government is actively working to increase business with the U.S. as a part of its world priorities [1]. The U.K.-U.S. business relationship is vital to both countries’ economies and is estimated to be worth over $200bn every year. Both the U.K. and the U.S. are working together to lower trade barriers between the two countries in a bid to increase Trans-Atlantic business. More U.S. companies are now looking to expand operations into the U.K. than ever, and amongst the financial, logistical and legal factors to consider, the security and safety of the business also needs careful consideration.

The U.K. and U.S. share a common language, a similar approach to business and, to some extent, the same appreciation for security. The sharp increase in terrorist activity since 9/11 and the feeling of real threat in major western cities has led to many companies placing a higher value on security and disaster recovery plans. Unsurprisingly, this has led to an increase in demand for British private security solutions both in the U.K. and abroad. U.K. companies already export a significant amount of security products and services to the U.S., worth an estimated $983 million [2] and can provide a wide variety of solutions, along with consultancy services, to help U.S. companies secure their businesses in the U.K.

The U.K.’s private security industry is a leading edge, high-technology sector that is rapidly growing; in fact, the U.K. security sector has grown over five times faster than the rest of the U.K. economy since 2010 [3]. Companies operating in the sector have a commitment to developing and driving standards forward to ensure that the industry remains respected globally. With the help of industry trade bodies such as the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), the sector has managed to develop a suite of standards recognized by the British Standards Institute (BSI) – and in some instances, the European and international standards bodies. Perhaps the most important development in the U.K.’s private security industry has been the introduction of a Government regulatory body – the Security Industry Authority (SIA) – established in 2003. The introduction of new regulatory laws and an industry regulator was welcomed by the sector which is now calling for lighter-touch regulation in the form of business licensing.

The U.K.’s private security industry is widely regarded as a leader of innovation and professionalism in security products and services. When expanding business operations to the U.K., there are a number of security considerations to take into account around what security goods or services would be an appropriate solution. A holistic approach is recommended, utilizing a range of different solutions to ensure that the business is adequately protected against any security risks it may face. A security consultant can provide a full risk assessment and recommend the most appropriate solutions for the business. Some of the security solutions available, which any business setting up operations in the U.K. might wish to consider, include:


Most companies wishing to implement a cost efficient and effective security solution will use a CCTV system as a standalone product or in collaboration with other security products and services. With between 4 million and 5.9 million CCTV cameras in the U.K. [4], the CCTV industry is one of the largest sectors in the security landscape. The speed in which CCTV technology has advanced in recent years has resulted in solutions being effective in a wide variety of applications. Developments of particular note include the introduction of high definition (HD) recording and display solutions – which have significantly improved the quality of images – and the gradual change from analogue systems to Internet Protocol (IP) technology enabling sites to be monitored externally amongst a wealth of other benefits. Other advancements in CCTV technology include Visual Content Analysis (VCA) where images are automatically analyzed and useful information sent to appropriate personnel enabling a quick response.

The most important factor in selecting a CCTV solution is the sourcing of a quality product from a reputable supplier. The U.K. Government launched a CCTV Code of Practice in 2012, that provides 12 principles laid out by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner in order to help operators and installers ensure that their system is fit for purpose.


Vacant properties are at heightened risk from fire, deterioration and criminal activity. Without adequate protection, these risks can lead to an increase in insurance premiums, significant financial loss and damage to reputation. Furthermore, in the U.K., property owners and managers have a ‘duty of care’ to anyone entering their property, whether authorized or not. Therefore, if property is likely to be vacant for any period of time, property owners or managers should seek the services of professional security services. The vacant property protection sector has developed significantly since the days of simply boarding up entry points and now, professional security services will offer an array of services including temporary CCTV, manned security patrols and monitored alarm systems.


Often, the presence of uniformed Security Officers is the greatest deterrent to would-be criminals and can provide a quicker response in the event of a security breach. The role of Security Officers can also go far beyond the traditional guarding role; many Security Officers in the U.K. will be trained first aiders, will act as a first point of enquiry for visitors and can provide traffic and parking management for functions and events. The Security Industry Authority estimates that there are approximately 96,000 licensed Security Officers operating in the U.K.[5]


The U.K.’s private security industry has made significant leaps forward in improving the effectiveness and reliability of alarm systems over the past two decades. Alarm systems are now a pivotal component of any security solution and can be integrated with other electronic security products with impressive results. The improved reliability of alarm systems can be attributed to the industry’s commitment to developing technology, methodology and standards, with the introduction of Unique Reference Numbers (URN) guaranteeing a police response to activations from systems which produce a URN.


Another area that has become an increasingly popular component of the security suite is access control to restrict the movement of people in, out and around a site. New developments in the biometric arena have led to an increase in the availability of solutions which utilize fingerprint and iris scanning as the identification device. The added business benefits that access control systems can provide include monitoring employee hours and attendance, calculating payroll and showing who is on the site in real time. Access control systems integrate well with other security solutions such as CCTV or intruder alarms which can be activated when a breach, or attempted breach, occurs. This allows operators, whether based on site or at external monitoring centers to decide on an appropriate response and react accordingly.


Lone worker devices are an important safeguard for people working in isolation or without direct supervision. The U.K.’s private security industry, along with the police and end users, has driven the development of these devices, standards and technology to ensure that they are an effective, and costeffective, method of protecting lone workers.

The devices offer the user a discrete way of alerting staff in an alarm receiving center, that a lone worker feels in danger. The activation of a device will open up a one-way voice call so that monitoring staff can listen in to the situation as it occurs and raise an appropriate response as necessary. Monitoring staff can alert the police if assistance is required and provide a ‘moving picture’ of the situation as it happens.

U.K. security companies have already been trusted by U.S. companies with some significant contracts. A BSIA member company implemented a smart card access system at the Department of Interiors headquarters in Washington D.C., which involved ensuring that the system was fully compliant with comprehensive specifications for the use of contactless smart cards throughout U.S. federal government. U.S.-based Western Virginia Water Authority is another company that has adopted the services of a BSIA member company, installing digital surveillance technology to support their existing security measures.

When selecting a security solution, quality must be the dominant factor in decision making. Reputable suppliers will be members of leading trade associations such as the BSIA, which require them to comply with strict quality monitoring and codes of conduct. Choosing a reputable supplier will not only ensure that a superior service is received, but may also significantly reduce the spending on security in the long term.

[2] UKTI Defence & Security Export Statistics for 2013, KMatrix, ADS/GfK NOP Survey 2014
[3] UK Security Industry Outlook, 2014, ADS Group

Further Information

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