Coronavirus: what security contractors say

It’s becoming apparent how contract guarding companies are handling the coronavirus pandemic – but too early to say what the financial impacts may be.

In a March 27 statement to investors, the facilities management contractor Mitie spoke of ‘a mixed impact on our divisions’.

A March 18 message to staff from Chief Executive Phil Bentley acknowledged and thanked front-line security and other contract staff, whether in ‘hospitals, schools, power stations, drug manufacturing facilities, data centres, telephony infrastructure, supermarkets, offices, airports, sensitive Government buildings and immigration centres’.

As for ‘essential’ sector clients, named as NHS, Home Office, police, Sellafield, AWE, Bank of England and Network Rail, the contractor sees little change in demand. However, the contract firm is ‘starting to see discretionary project work in its fire and security, and ‘Technical Services’ ‘being significantly deferred’.

As for Mitie’s own operations, the firm says that major office hubs are now shut; HR, Finance and IT support – including those outsourced to India – are being done remotely. To ‘further mitigate the impact’ of COVID-19, the company has ‘carried out a review of our overhead cost base which should deliver savings over the next 12 months of circa £25m’ and the firm has ‘deferred any non-essential and uncommitted capital expenditure’, among other things. Like many other firms, it’s also ‘pro-actively managing’ cash flows.

Phil Bentley said: “I am humbled by the unstinting commitment of our front-line colleagues, who continue to provide essential services to our clients at this most challenging of times. They embody the Mitie Value of ‘going the extra mile’ and they deserve everyone’s thanks. We welcome the support measures available to Mitie, as a strategic supplier to Government.

“The Board is therefore confident that the combination of its existing lending facilities, Government support measures and the current actions being undertaken, Mitie will be able to meet the challenges arising from Covid-19 in the near term and be well placed – as financing markets normalise – to complete its transformation programme and build an enduring business.”

At the multi-national G4S, which has some 550,000 employees worldwide, group CEO Ashley Almanza made the point that in Asia the firm has been responding to the virus ‘for a number of months’. He said that business continuity plans have been activated in every country across the group. He said: “We are working with industry, unions and government departments to ensure that our colleagues are designated as key workers which will help to ensure that we can provide continuity of service to our customers. We have implemented remote working practices where we can and are responding daily to changing customer needs as the progression of the virus continues and organisations adapt to the challenges this brings.

“As you will know, the situation relating to Covid-19 changes every day and we are continuing to monitor developments and adapt our plans accordingly. Members of the G4S Group Executive team are personally engaged every day and we have established a global Covid-19 Steering Committee to co-ordinate the implementation of our plans.”

Another security multi-national, Securitas, which has 370,000 globally, has said in a March 23 statement that it’s seen cancelled events and exhibitions; and less passenger and luggage screening work in aviation. As clients bring in business contingency plans, that means fewer or delayed installations of larger electronic security projects. While that adds up to a ‘negative impact’ on sales for March, it’s too early to say for the future, the firm said. Magnus Ahlqvist, Securitas President and CEO, said: “I am very proud of our teams and people who are showing strong leadership, agility and resilience in close collaboration with our clients.”

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