On my recent trips to the local Jobcentre I have noticed that, as well as ominously hanging around the interview areas as usual, Group 4 security guards now seem to have taken up standby positions as all-purpose receptionists/'greeters', while actual Jobcentre staff are often absent from the front desk.
On one occasion I watched as these guards in their distinctively badged suit-uniforms passed along the queue, inquiring in a 'helpful' and routine manner as to the nature of each person's visit, and instructing new arrivals on where to go. They looked at people's appointment cards and performed various administrative duties such as collecting paperwork and putting a notice on a broken computer terminal. Visitors complied with this set-up, handing over documentation, volunteering details of their claims and even asking for advice. This blank acceptance was perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the situation. I told a security guard who approached me that I did not wish to share personal information with anyone other than Jobcentre staff and he seemed quite bemused.
Obvously this has implications in terms of outsourcing a supposedly skilled form of public sector labour to a private firm (they hardly even need to assign a Jobcentre worker to the front desk as the guards will deal with all enquiries), but more insidiously there is a sense that this 'service' is being re-shaped by an institutionalised atmosphere of repressed violence in which every claimant is automatically viewed as a potential danger which must be neutralised. The whole place communicates an aggressively deterrent message - do not attempt to get past the front desk; do not expect to receive any financial benefit without incurring a corresponding deficit in self-esteem; and don't bother coming in here at all unless you want to be 'greeted' by a security guard. It can easily be imagined how such a hostile arrangement could become a self-fulfiling prophecy, and how the slightest confrontation would be spuriously used to justify the conspicuous security regime (rather than considering that its presence might be the cause of the problem).
While waiting at the front of the queue I actually saw two security guards in different zones of the office conducting a trivial bureaucreatic discussion using walkie-talkies. Seeing them both prowling around the furniture as if they were patrolling a crime scene, conversing on two-way radios about the whereabouts of some official envelope, I felt I had glimpsed in microcosm the reality of this emerging brand of 'social security'.
Relatedly, see this post by Owen Hatherley on the latest bullying campaigns of the Big Brother Security State.