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Private guards 'could replace police at Westminster'

The Houses of Parliament could soon be under the stewardship of private security guards, as the government looks for ways it can save money.

It is hoped the move will go some way towards helping ministers make £24 million worth of savings in the parliamentary budget.

Currently, the Metropolitan Police provides all the security cover required by both the Lords and the Commons. However, that is set to change as of April 2015, when its contract is due to expire.

While the Met will still have a presence in the form of armed officers, a large part of the service they provide could be replaced by staff who would man scanners normally associated with airport security, in order to control who is going in and out.

Because the move is purely based on cost-cutting reasons, the force could - in theory - bid for the contract along with a number of other firms when its deal expires, meaning that there is still the possibility that nothing at all will change.

Mixed views

The potential transition to using a private security organisation has has a mixed reaction from MPs.

While some have welcomed the fact that the new option will be much cheaper than the current setup without compromising the safety of politicians and staff, others have vocally expressed their concerns.

The Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman wrote in the Yorkshire Post: "To attempt to run our democratic hub as though it was a commercial enterprise is plain wrong and must be stopped."

However, house speaker John Bercow told the Independent: "Suffice it to say that I know about these matters and am very comfortable about the interests of the House."

Big change

While Mr Sheerman's concerns that parliament would be treated more like a tourist attraction than a key cog in Britain's political machine simply by employing a security firm over the police to look after it may seem a little unfounded, there is perhaps an element to the change that is easier to understand.

After all, the force has looked after the estate since 1839, meaning it would be a huge moment in history if it was to relinquish the contract next year.

The change is a significant opportunity for the private security sector to repair the negative publicity caused by G4S during the London Olympics, when the organisation failed to provide enough guards in time for the games.

While parliament may be spread across a smaller area than the sporting event, the risks are just as real, with knuckle dusters, swords and imitation weapons all among the items confiscated by officers over the years.

Whatever organisation does take over from the Met, the job at hand certainly provides a challenge - one that is likely to create its own headlines for years and months to come. The good news is that it shows the country's leaders are publicly putting their faith in the private security sector and that alone is priceless.

Posted by Andrew Miller

Image courtesy of Thinkstock/Digital Vision

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