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UK security industry pleads for closer goverment ties

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The hi-tech civil security industry has said it needs a cosier relationship with government if the UK is to stay ahead in the "war on terror".

Terrorists are finding new and frightening ways of subverting security, the industry warned today, and said companies that operate within it would not be able to keep up with the rapidly evolving threat unless government brought them "inside the tent".

Representing the Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers Council (RISC), Timothy Otter, vice president of business development at Smith's Detection, said a close relationship with government would allow the industry to adapt its private research investments to emerging threats more quickly.

He cited speeches given by the outgoing Home Secretary John Reid that suggested a "competitive" security industry, yet one backed by government, would be equally vital as a source of wealth for the UK as it was a means of keeping borders safe.

"If we can achieve this, it will be a win win for the UK in that national security will be enhanced and it will increase our industrial vitality and it will increase our international influence," said Otter.

"The aims of RISC are to develop an enduring industrial strategy," said Otter, who was standing in for Stephen Phipson, chairman of RISC and managing director of Smiths, at an industry conference hosted by the Royal United Services Institute.

Close ties with government were "critical". In particular, he said, industry wanted to be made aware of what the latest security threats were. He complained that a lack of government support for the security industry had forced it to develop products for the world market rather than tailoring them specifically for the UK. "This strategy lays us open to huge threats," he said.

The European Commssion has already launched an initiative - the European Security Research and Innovation Forum - to create what would in effect be a single market for surveillance technology by getting EU countries to demand the same technologies to counter the same threats.

The UK and US have proposed the same, but the UK's position on immigration has caused the EU to lock it out of a raft of security measures it wants to get its hands on, including the Visa Information System, a database that is proposed to store the biometric details of around 70 million immgrants to the EU at any one time.

The US also has a bilateral agreement with the UK that allows them to co-operate on security technology, according to James DeCorpo, director of the US Department of Homeland Security's Eurasia office.

Khoen Liem, principle scientific officer for security research and development at the European Commission, said that some of the €32bn the EC has committed to joint research funding with private firms between 2007 and 2013 might be used to prop up firms where there was not a market for their goods, but there was a security need. The EC might even consider paying 100 per cent of a private firm's security research funding, he said.

The idea that a civil security industry could simultaneously sustain both the means and the mechanisms by which the UK could protect itself from the outside world is one that had been dropped from the Home Office's Security and Counter-Terrorism Science and Innovation Strategy, published yesterday. But it may continue to be a stick with which the industry lobby bangs its drum. ®

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