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Security officers: why respect for their role really matters

Brian Sims reviews Channel 4’s ‘Undercover Boss’, in which Securitas’ UK and Ireland leader Geoff Zeidler found out exactly what life on the front line is like for the company’s security officers.

Monday 8 July 2013 was something of a Red Letter Day for security guarding in the UK, but you’ll not be overly cognisant of the fact unless you happened to be watching Channel 4 at 9.00 pm.

Series 5 Episode 2 of the broadcaster’s ‘Undercover Boss’ strand featured Geoff Zeidler – country president and UK/Ireland managing director at Securitas – going ‘back to the shop floor’ following the 2011 acquisitions of Reliance and Chubb, and learning what life is really like for his frontline staff during one of the worst spells of economic recession ever to hit the UK.

What followed was not only a seriously engaging hour-long documentary but also a thought-provoking exercise bringing key topics to the fore.

Securitas' UK and Ireland md Geoff Zeidler: The Undercover Boss

Securitas’ UK and Ireland md Geoff Zeidler: The Undercover Boss

An engineering graduate of the University of Cambridge, Geoff took it upon himself to vacate the Boardroom for five days and – under the persona of Dale James, an unemployed engineer looking for a career change – interface with Securitas’ frontline officers. Those officers wouldn’t recognise him, he hoped, once he’d grown a beard and shaved his head.

First port of call was a waterside development of bars in Manchester. Geoff met with Mo and Mario (former employees of Reliance). Over two decades they’ve been threatened by people brandishing firearms, slashed with knives and ‘glassed’ by thugs toting broken bottles.

Geoff swapped his suit for a metal-plated vest and, alongside the duo, attempted to control aggressive drunks and impromptu street brawls. Not his usual habitat and one that, by his own admission, was “very frightening”.

Attempted theft and Anti-Social Behaviour

Next stop was The Priory Shopping Centre in Dartford. Here, instances of attempted theft and Anti-Social Behaviour crop up. Geoff was put to the test by security manager Julie who asked him to confront a six-foot giant banned from the site – the chap concerned was acting out the role – before informing Securitas’ UK leader that she regularly works 14-hour days (many beginning before 5.00 am), finds it difficult to cover all shifts due to lack of bodies and that her own life outside of work is suffering as a result. Not a great picture.

Then it was off to Cirencester, where Geoff pitched up in front of Charles and Carl looking for mobile patrol work. Alas, the eagle-eyed duo rumbled Geoff’s disguise thanks to a photo of ‘The Real Mr Zeidler’ immediately behind him on their office wall, but agreed to keep quiet.

Geoff ventured out on night patrol with James, one of four officers who check up on 500-plus properties. James had to buy his own torch because the one with which he’d been supplied didn’t cut it. He’d also negotiated a new £25,000 contract for Securitas to monitor three warehouses but there was no commission in place for him.

To round off the whole experience, Geoff dropped in on Dewsbury Bus Station (a long-term contract for Securitas). The station resides in a racially diverse town where one third of residents come from an ethnic background.

Dave – one of the officers on duty – is quizzed by Zeidler, who learns of security staff having to cope with (among other things) drunks who threaten them, attempted headbuttings and instances of racial abuse.

Geoff Zeidler on patrol in Manchester with Securitas officers Mo and Mario

Geoff Zeidler on patrol in Manchester with Securitas officers Mo and Mario

At the end of the programme, Geoff – by now “angry” with what he has seen – admits who he is and acts fast. Mo and Mario are granted extra CCTV, Julie additional officers. James is paid his commission (and issued with a new torch). Dave receives £500 to donate to local charities while consideration is afforded to alterations for Basic Job Training on the site that will improve aspects of communication.

How frontline security officers are viewed and treated – by their employers, their employers’ customers and society at large – matters, and massively so. As this programme amply demonstrates, those officers do a fantastic job day in, day out, often under immensely trying circumstances. They absolutely deserve to be wholly respected by the society they protect.

Channel 4, Securitas and Geoff Zeidler merit much praise for producing this programme. We desperately need more prime time documentaries centred on security’s frontline. Maybe then we can banish forever the tired, clichéd and erroneous views of security guarding that have no place in today’s world.

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Is the security industry heading towards a legislative cliff?

Brian Sims and Bobby Logue canvass UK security industry leaders’ opinions on why swift primary legislation is going to be so important for the future roadmap of private sector regulation.

At the conclusion of the Public Bodies Review by the UK Government (which focused on creating greater transparency around all public bodies), the Government – in consultation with the security industry – agreed that the Security Industry Authority (SIA) should be reformed.

In November 2012, the Home Office began consultation on the future of the regulated UK private security sector. Key to the changes suggested by the politicians was the formation of a new regulatory body which requires primary legislation to take effect.

Key changes include the licensing of security companies, the idea that the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) may become an industry-led Hallmark Scheme and that the security industry itself could be vested with direct responsibility for skills development.

Some of the proposed changes don’t in fact require primary legislation, but key areas of the proposed changes do.

Warning from industry leaders

Now, industry leaders have warned that, without primary legislation materialising before the next General Election, the private security industry faces the possibility of sliding off a legislative cliff.

A concerned James Kelly, chairman of the Security Regulation Alliance and the CEO of the British Security Industry Association, commented: “The BSIA recently collated responses from across its membership to the Home Office consultation on the proposed new regulatory regime. It was noted and accepted that the main substance of the consultation document reflected the key proposals submitted to the Home Office by the Regulator – to which the BSIA and its partners in the Security Regulation Alliance had contributed. There was, however, one notable concern: the current absence of any provision for the scheduling of primary legislation.”

Kelly continued: “The BSIA, along with its partners in the Security Regulation Alliance, believes that the efficacy of the proposed new system of regulation depends wholly on the requisite primary legislation. Without this, the proposals will be ineffectual, and it will represent a missed opportunity to build constructively on the industry-Regulator-Government consensus achieved to date.”

Elaborating on this point, Kelly went on to state: “Indeed, the credibility of the Home Office’s recent industry-wide consultation, which states that such legislation will be introduced – but there is silence on the timing of it – will be undermined in the absence of such primary legislation. Accordingly, it’s imperative that the relevant primary legislation, giving effect to the Security Industry Authority’s successor body and conferring enforcement powers on that body to challenge businesses that fail to comply with the terms of their licence, is scheduled at the earliest possible date within this Parliament.”

Sense of cautious optimism

Commenting on behalf of The Security Institute and its membership, chairman Mike Bluestone CSyP said: “It’s well over two years since the formation of the Security Regulation Alliance. That body was established in the autumn of 2010 as a combined security sector response to the Government’s announcement at the time that the SIA was to be abolished along with hundreds of other ‘Quangos’ [ie Non Departmental Public Bodies or NDPBs].”

Bluestone explained: “The Security Institute was a founder member of the Security Regulation Alliance. I’m proud of the role that the organisation has played to date in contributing to the work of the Alliance, and in particular to the SIA’s Strategic Consultation Group (SCG). The SCG was, of course, the brainchild of Baroness Ruth Henig who, until earlier this month, was chairman of the SIA. To the surprise of many of us, and despite her outstanding leadership, Baroness Henig’s tenure as SIA chairman was not renewed. We do of course wish the new acting chairman, Bill Matthews, every success in this important role, and look forward to working with him.”

Bluestone also said: “There’s a sense of cautious optimism that the move towards a new regulatory regime centred on business licensing will be completed sooner rather than later. One reason for the ‘cautious’ element in this optimism is the ongoing delay in the passing of the necessary primary legislation. Primary legislation is essential in order to give the new regulatory regime the required mandate to operate fully, including new and essential enforcement powers which will be needed to oversee licensed businesses as opposed to individuals.”

Concluding his statement, Bluestone explained: “Let us hope that the assurances being given by the Government to pass that legislation materialise very soon. Those of us who have the responsibility of consulting with the SIA and the Home Office on a regular basis will certainly not rest until that legislation is passed and the new regulatory regime is in place. The UK simply cannot afford to let the future regulation of such a vital industry be allowed to hang in the balance for much longer.”

IPSA: supporting the case for reform

Also voicing strong opinion on this vital matter is Mike White, chairman of the International Professional Security Association (IPSA).

“You could be forgiven for thinking that the recently ended Home Office consultation around the future regulation of the private security industry was, in real terms, Hobson’s Choice given that one option was to do nothing, a second was to remove all regulation completely and the third was the wonderfully drafted description of ‘a phased transition to a business regulation regime’,” said White. “Having been part of the consultation on the future of regulation for some time now, IPSA supports the case for reform and, specifically, the need for business regulation. However, we do have concerns.”

White continued: “For any business regulatory regime to have meaningful credibility, there will need to be suitable and sufficient enforcement powers enshrined within the process. These will need to include proportionate measures that could range from cautions, improvement notices and fines up to the ultimate sanction of the revocation of a company’s licence to trade in the industry. It’s our understanding that, for these powers to be guaranteed, there’s a need for primary legislation to be passed by Parliament. However, Government business managers only point to a vague offer of an opportunity of some Parliamentary time sometime in the final session – most probably 2014 – just a year before the next General Election.”

White went on to state: “This is not good enough, and is arguably an insult to an industry that’s actively seeking to enhance its professionalism, drive out – and keep out – criminality and which has positively embraced the need for change. The Private Security Industry Act 2001 stumbled through Parliament at the end of a Parliamentary session. We mustn’t let that happen again.”

IPSA’s chairman explained: “We support our colleagues in the industry with similar misgivings, and join them in calling upon Lord Taylor and the Home Secretary to grasp this opportunity as proactively and positively as the security industry has and confirm a date when draft primary legislation will be put up for debate. This must be well in advance of 2014 when MPs will inevitably be starting their General Election campaigns and their thoughts will be elsewhere.”

In conclusion, White stressed: “This is an opportunity to shape our industry for the next 20-plus years, and it needs to be underpinned by well thought out, fit for purpose legislation that ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’.”

Brian Sims (media solutions manager, UBM Live Security and Fire Portfolio) and Bobby Logue (managing director, Interconnective)

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The Olympic Games: calling for an independent security review

Brian Sims and Bobby Logue are calling for an independent review to examine the failures that have caused the shortage of security manpower for the 2012 Games. 

Politicians and the national media have spent the last week and more lobbing verbal and written ‘rotten eggs’ at security provider G4S for its alleged ‘dismal failure’ in attempting to provide sufficient security personnel for the 2012 Olympic Games. 

Yesterday afternoon, we were subjected to a ‘performance’ by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee who appeared to be competing with each other to see which one of them could deride G4S CEO Nick Buckles and his company the most. 

We are of the firm and frank opinion that the seemingly crowd-pleasing trend of politicians and elements of the media deliberately attempting to humiliate industry leaders often goes way too far and must be reined in. 

Calling for an independent review 

We would wish to see an independent review – possibly conducted by the Security Industry Authority (SIA), the Regulator of the private security industry – on the root causes of the security contractor’s inability to provide sufficient security personnel in time for the start of the Games. 

It’s apparent there have been some failures within G4S that have contributed to this situation. However, there could be more deep-rooted causes driven by the almost impossible contractual timescales involved, not to mention the ability of any private security contractor to wholly deliver on an event of this magnitude when operating in isolation – no matter how hard they try. 

On that note, could the contractual Terms and Conditions for London 2012 have perhaps been successfully executed by a private consortium of security contractors – led by the BSIA, for example – rather than a lone solutions provider? 

Global event, massive scale 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is the first occasion a private security contractor has been required to provide security for a global event on the massive scale of the Olympic Games. 

To date, G4S has enjoyed an excellent track record of delivering on security at high profile events, the All-England Lawn Tennis Club Championships at Wimbledon among them. 

Historically, of course, the security of global events has been the remit of both the police service and Armed Forces personnel. The failure of G4S to meet all of its contractual requirements this time around has resulted in the Government resorting to ‘Plan B’ by relying on some of those troops and serving police officers to make up the numbers. 

Unfortunately, this national headline-hitting situation has not only affected the London Stock Exchange value of G4S in the short term and impinged on the company’s credibility, but also tarnished in some measure the hard-fought improved reputation of the UK’s private security sector post-regulation and licensing. 

What was the objective? 

MPs sitting on the Home Affairs Committee were convened to discover what has caused G4S’ failure to provide sufficient security officers for the 2012 Olympic Games. However, as stated the MPs’ at times crass line of questioning merely seemed to serve an objective of trying to humiliate Nick Buckles while singularly failing to elicit clarity on what has actually gone awry. 

At times, the MPs involved exhibited a clear lack of understanding of the sheer complexities around providing 10,400 security personnel in the space of seven months, and failed to recognise how far removed from the frontline the CEO of any big company – but particularly “the third largest employer in the world” – might actually be on a practical, day-to-day basis. 

Indeed, the MPs displayed ignorance in relation to the workings of the security industry. At one point in the proceedings, Committee chairman Keith Vaz suggested that Buckles should have sought the help of other named outsourcing companies who, in fact, do not deploy licensed security personnel. 

During the intense period of questioning by the MPs on the Home Affairs Committee, G4S’ CEO rightly alluded to the fact that, if G4S – as the largest provider in the country – couldn’t produce the required security personnel for the 2012 Olympic Games, which private security solutions concern could have done so? 

Right to work in security 

The regulated private security industry harbours several ‘hoops’ for a prospective candidate to jump through before being able to legitimately work as a security officer in the UK. Potential licensed security personnel are required to undertake a training course. The process also includes thorough criminality, right to work and other necessary security checks. 

In addition, applicants who have not been permanently resident in the UK are subject to time consuming and rigorous overseas criminality checks, and necessarily so. 

In cases like the Olympic Games, where certain venues are classified by the SIA as licensed premises, security personnel are expected to have a door supervisor licence. Due to the security risks surrounding the Olympics, security personnel are also required to be trained in counter-terror screening activities. On top of that, personnel must be vetted to a British Standard. 

It appears that it’s more difficult to vet the unemployed than it is to employ individuals with a consistent employment record. 

Potential labour pools 

The next challenge faced by G4S would have been: ‘Where will the security personnel be recruited from?’ As pointed out during the Home Affairs Committee interrogation of Buckles and his colleague, global events specialist Ian Horseman-Sewell, it’s likely that no person engaged in full-time employment would actively seek a temporary security position during the Olympic Games (unless, of course, some individuals specifically wanted to take time off from their day jobs to be at the events in a working capacity). 

Due to time constraints, employing or introducing overseas personnel would have been challenging to say the least. 

On that basis, this left two potential labour pools: students and the unemployed. A much heralded scheme, the excellent Bridging The Gap was introduced to educational establishments some time ago in order to train students in undertaking security functions at the 2012 Games. 

In addition, a massive training programme was launched to leverage the unemployed. 

The ‘Just in Time’ approach 

In terms of the LOCOG contract, G4S was to be paid for training and actual shifts worked. This effectively created a ‘Just in Time’ approach to the employment of Olympic security personnel as candidates would not have waited around for several months for employment, especially while there has been increased pressure from JobCentre Plus to find people gainful work at a time of fiscal recession and austerity cutbacks. 

Keith Vaz began the Home Affairs Committee grilling of Nick Buckles by asking the G4S CEO why he was still in post. We would respectfully ask Mr Vaz why he stood up in the House of Commons several days before – on 12 July, in fact – and stated that the Olympic security operation presided over by G4S is, in his eyes, a “fiasco”, that G4S has “let the whole country down” and that we have “literally had to send in the troops”. This is popularist rhetoric of the worst kind. 

Isn’t the chairman of any committee – but most importantly this one – not meant to be impartial and shy away from effectively prejudicing such a cross-examination? 

Predictable comment in the House 

These statements were embellished in Parliament by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who all-too-predictably referred to “another Home Office shambles” and the “Border Force becoming a Border Farce”. 

This is not a time for cheap political point scoring. 

In the House, Mr Vaz also asked Home Secretary Theresa May to “confirm that G4S will suffer penalties” as a result of this situation before we’ve even found out the whole background to what has gone wrong (and why) through an independent review process. 

That review process is absolutely necessary before anyone is pilloried. 

Brian Sims, Media Solutions Manager, UBM Live Security and Fire Portfolio

Bobby Logue, Publisher, http://www.infologue.com

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The Security Week (7.1.2011): CCTV and New Year Honours

The Security Week is back… and all of us at info4security.com and SMT Online hope 2011 shapes up to be a great year for you and the security profession at large!

Security Industry Authority chairman Baroness Ruth Henig’s review of 2010 is certainly very upbeat, and was swiftly followed by hugely positive news from recent inspections in Scotland.

In the guarding sphere, Plimsoll’s latest sector analysis offers an overview of where the market’s likely to be heading this year. Meanwhile, Securitas has wasted no time in purchasing Dutch consultancy Interseco.

Having kept us all safe over the festive season, the Metropolitan Police Service is now expanding Met-Track and had several of its officers named in Her Majesty The Queen’s New Year Honours List. Congratulations!

CCTV reaped plenty of rewards for the Met last year, while also playing a fulsome security role at Newcastle University, on the new West Herts College campus and in the Swedish Municipality of Eslöv.

Who knows… perhaps it could figure as part of the Government’s plans for £200 million worth of Technology and Innovation Centres?

New approach to tackling anti-social behaviour

Speaking of the coalition, the Home Office has devised a new approach for tackling the scourge of anti-social behaviour.

Also, the UK Border Agency has revealed some of the more interesting ways in which smugglers attempt to conceal drugs bound for home shores.

IFSEC 2011 will soon be upon us, so too IFSEC West Africa. Keep checking back for all the latest news. Companies like Bosch and HID will be mighty keen to tell you about their plans.

Before you look ahead to the New Year, why not find out which stories were our best read in December?

If you’re an SME, take note of what the Forum of Private Business has to say about the next 12 months.

2011’s inaugural Song About Security is brought to you by The Whitest Boy Alive, and is an ode to safe rooms. The video’s great, so check it out!

For real-time news updates follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/info4security and twitter.com/smtonlineeditor. You can also access up-to-the-minute news via our dedicated RSS feed.

Until next time…

Brian Sims
Editor
Security Management Today Online

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SMT Online End User News

Don’t know about you but I love watching Dragons’ Den. I love it even more now that two of the security sector’s finest – FGH Security’s md Peter Harrison and business development director Wesley Downham – have appeared on the show and gained offers from all five Dragons.

A fantastic achievement. In just ten minutes on that episode, these Gentlemen of Lancaster have realised so much good publicity for the guarding and door supervision sectors. I made sure I posted my thoughts on the Dragons’ Den microsite. I sincerely hope the national media take notice.

Many congratulations must also go to Chris Morgan, operations manager with the OCS Group (UK). At the recent BSIA Annual Luncheon and Security Personnel Awards, I was told that Chris had been bestowed with an MBE. A tremendous achievement, Chris!

Speaking of guarding companies, I recently conducted a fulsome interview with Jason Trigg, the forward-thinking CEO at The Cardinal Group. Read what he has to say on the industry and the SIA in Part One and Part Two.

Evidence of the purse string tightening in the public sector can already be seen in the security space, prompting the annual Local Authority CCTV Conference to be focused on that very issue.

On top of that, Home Office minister Nick Herbert has stressed that the police service must cut back on its spending. On Monday, the minister held a live Q&A session on the subject, so I duly fired in a question.

Smartphone crime: something of a hot topic

Mobile phone crime does seem to be something of a hot topic just now, with news on smartphone security in particular cropping up at an alarming rate.

Our end user club that is SMT SELECT has now joined forces with the BSIA in launching a series of Industry Leader Briefings. These gatherings begin in September, and I’m delighted to report that our first speaker is Liz Siberry OBE (director of the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure).

Turning towards the Regulator, the latest Annual Report and Accounts have been issued at 90 High Holborn. Read my brief overview and then access the SIA’s website to scan the full documents.

You can also digest what’s happening with online licence applications.

The inaugural Wilf Knight Award at the 2009 Security Excellence Awards was a tremendous success. Now, The Security Institute has issued a Call for Entries to this year’s competition. The Judging Panel very much looks forward to your submissions.

Last, but by no means least, show organiser UBM Live has launched the IFSEC Future of Security Competition for budding entrepreneurs and innovators.

If you would like to see your ideas showcased at the NEC next May (and you wouldn’t mind bagging some top prizes and industry applause for good measure), click here.

Until next time

Brian Sims
Editor
SMT Online

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SMT Online End User News

The recent BSIA Annual Luncheon at London’s Hilton Hotel on Park Lane was one of the best ever.

A superb Chairman’s Address from Julie Kenny CBE, an equally strident polemic courtesy of Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson QPM and the Building the Future Award honouring Jorgen Philip-Sorensen were special highlights.

What’s always so pivotal about this event, though, is the Security Personnel Awards and the Chairman’s Awards. These ‘accolade moments’ tell the world – and its security buyers – just how important UK plc’s magnificent security officers, door staff, cash couriers and CCTV operators really are in the grand scheme of things. 

Why not watch my videos from the day, or perhaps take a look at some of the new BSIA Section leaders who’ve just taken office? 

I’ve also published the industry’s first, exclusive interview with new BSIA chief executive James Kelly over two consecutive days. Check out Part One and Part Two.

Speaking of interviews, it was fascinating to find out exactly why Baroness Harris of Richmond decided to become the patron of ASIS in the UK

The old saying suggests that while one door closes another one opens. Morten Ronning has left Securitas Security Services after a long and successful spell at the company and, as he does so, Mike White takes over from Dennis Ricketts as deputy international chairman at IPSA.

Plenty of activity at the Regulator

Of late, Mike has been pretty vocal in his opinions on SIA regulation. There’s now a new Board member at 90 High Holborn, but what do you make of the Regulator’s decision to shelve any notion of a generic licence? Let me know

In the digital publishing space, many of you will know that I’m fully immersed in LinkedIn, Twitter and WordPress (where my blog, TheSecurityLion, resides).

Continuing the communication theme, like many of you I’m a BlackBerry fanatic. That’s why I was so interested to find out the latest at Research In Motion and about Skyguard’s software update success story.

The ABM Investigation Survey for 2010 makes for unhappy reading, highlighting the fact that criminal attacks on organisations’ profits appear to be increasing.

On the plus side, though, the latest reports on the CCTV market, security integration and mobile surveillance schemes will boost the fight against crime. 

Talking of business crime, exactly how and why might biometrics be beneficial for your company? 

Until next time

Brian Sims, Editor, SMT Online

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Isn’t it about time we questioned Question Time?

There’s not a great deal worth watching on TV these days, is there? 

For the most part, it’s all vacuous soap operas, Fly-On-The-Wall musings and Jeremy Kyle/Big Brother reminding We The People – as if we needed to be reminded – as to how low society has really sunk in this country. 

Without wishing to inject snobbery, for I’m not of that mindset, where are all the serious documentaries of yesteryear? 

In truth, there’s hardly anything on the box that you could call educational (and that’s really saying something given the number of channels we ‘enjoy’ these days thanks to many of us being ‘lucky’ enough to be Sky subscribers). 

Thankfully, we’ll no longer have to suffer The Housemates from Hell once the current series of ‘Big Bruvva’ (as most of the contestants pronounce it) brings the whole shooting match to an end… and not before time, either. 

Question Time: it’s a ‘must see’ 

When I watch The Magic Rectangle (which is mostly at weekends), there are a handful of shows I’ll tune into… sport (football and cricket in the main, although I make a point of viewing the entirety of the Tour de France every summer because it’s fascinating and brilliant), the news and current affairs. 

In terms of the latter, the one ‘must see’ for me is Question Time (which, as many of you will know, airs on BBC1 every Thursday night after the main news bulletin). 

For those of you unfamiliar with the format, Question Time features an hour-long political debate hosted by chairman David Dimbleby and framed by the inclusion of a five (or sometimes six)-strong panel of guests who field questions – occasionally thorny in tone – from a ‘live’ audience. 

Each week, we’re treated to a debate from a different town or city, and a different cross-section of the public who attempt – usually in vain – to make our politicians realise what’s happening in the real world away from the carpeted (and highly privileged) corriders of Westminster and Whitehall. 

In truth, the programme isn’t really live. It’s filmed earlier that evening for broadcast at around 10.35 pm. Also, ‘Dimbers’ always makes a point of telling us that the panel members have no knowledge of the questions that will be posed, but I doubt that somehow. Some of them don’t even appear to have thought about an answer before they deliver it.

Infiltration from unwanted parties 

Now, to the main point of this blog… Of late, I’ve become increasingly frustrated and, not to put too fine a point on it, annoyed at the fact the programme is being infiltrated. 

Infiltrated, that is, by panel members who should never be allowed within a country mile of the crescent-shaped desk which they duly sit – and sometimes squirm – behind as if it were some kind of perimeter protection device shielding them from the nasty, ordinary folk whose views might upset the cosy political applecart. 

In recent episodes, we’ve been treated to the musings of Toby Young (a food and restaurant critic who had to ask his wife how to do most of the cooking on an episode of Come Dine With Me) and ‘comedian’ Ed Byrne. The latter adorned this week’s Question Time, in fact. 

If you scan the official BBC Question Time website, you’ll come across a paragraph in the ‘About Us’ section that reads as follows: “In the years since it was first broadcast, on 25 September 1979, Question Time has become something of a national institution, offering British voters a unique opportunity to quiz top decision-makers on the events of the day.” 

Excuse me, but since when were Toby Young, Ed Byrne and the like “top decision-makers”? 

What next? Roy Cropper from Coronation Street being taken to task over the lard he uses for fry-ups in Roy’s Rolls because it doesn’t come from an eco-friendly supplier? The mind boggles… 

The BBC and The Populist Agenda 

Perhaps, in microcosm, this is yet another attempt by the BBC to render its programmes as populist as humanly possible in the sustained belief that we’ll all carry on paying the licence fee without questioning its worth. 

On that note, and if I may digress for a brief moment, we now live in an age where ‘The A Grade’ at A Level has apparently become the norm for our student population. The previous administration thrust so many of these ‘intelligent’ youngsters into university that they’re all now flooding the job market at the same juncture in the midst of an horrendous recession. They’re all debts and no place to go. 

If it’s so beneficial for so many youngsters to go on to higher education even though their ability to do so is highly questionable, how is it that the Confederation of British Industry’s members continually bemoan the fact that they will not employ many of today’s graduates (whom, they claim, cannot even come to terms with the basics – like spelling – let alone offer anything that resembles an analytical mind)? 

Anyway, I digress… Surely the Question Time panel ought to be – and indeed must be – populated first and foremost by elected members of Parliament, particularly at a time when the nation is in a political and financial mess and the coalition’s decisions deserve to be scrutinised by the electorate at every turn? 

I’ve no problem whatsoever with learned, sharp-witted and – more importantly – relevant political commentators like The Daily Mail’s columnist Richard Littlejohn or flamboyant historian David Starkey serving as ‘The Token Ordinary Person’ on the show, but I’ve no desire at all to hear the incoherent babble spouted by D-List ‘celebrities’. 

The latter belong in the pages of Hello! and OK! Not on Question Time. 

Rent-a-Quote needs to be stopped 

Similarly, I’ve no desire to see and hear the same old faces and voices every week, either. Lib Dem theoriser and education spokesperson Sarah Teather is never off the show and neither, it seems, is Liberty’s director Shami Chakrabarti. 

Let them feed their egos on Andrew Neil’s This Week if they must, but not on Question Time, Thank You very much.

Continuing my ‘Aggrieved of Rutherglen’ polemic, it has also been plainly evident of late – to me, at any rate – that Chairman Dimbleby appears to be letting his own thinly-veiled mask of impartiality slip. 

This week, I was so annoyed at what I perceived to be a blatant favouritism of certain panel members and obvious distaste for others that I joined in the debate on BBC Question Time’s Twitter site via my BlackBerry. 

For all you fellow social media fans, according to Wikipedia this has become one of the UK’s most active ‘Twitter backchannels’ to a TV show. Using the Twitter ID ‘@bbcquestiontime’, it tweets using the #bbcqt hashtag. 

The show has around 20,000 followers on Twitter (I’m one of them), while around 2,000 tweets are generated during each episode by 750 active Twitter fanatics. 

Can we hope to protect Question Time? 

How, then, can we stop Question Time from becoming another victim of ‘The Dumbing Down Squad’? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? 

Perhaps it’s a development that was only to be expected. After all, our political masters are the ones tasked with taking the lead, and all most of them have shown for the past decade and more is that (a) they’re ill-equipped to do just that and (b) they’re more interested in swindling the system than serving the electorate with anything like a degree of integrity. 

Thursday nights were never like this when Sir Robin Day was in charge. God bless him.

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