MPs question G4S chief as he admits security 'shambles'
IN HAPPIER times, the motto of G4S chief executive Nick Buckles at his company, which has almost 700,000 employees and operates in 125 countries, was “no excuses, please”. The words must have haunted him yesterday.
His reputation and that of his company have been badly damaged in the wake of the disclosure that G4S can provide only a fraction of the numbers of security guards promised for the 2012 London Olympics, beginning on Friday week.
Ordered before the House of Commons home affairs committee, Mr Buckles was hounded by MPs, particularly after it emerged that G4S still intends to claim a £57 million (€72.7 million) management fee, even though he cannot guarantee that it will even be able to produce 7,000 staff.
“We’ve managed the contract and we’ve had management on the ground for two years,” Mr Buckles said. “We still expect to deliver a significant number of staff.”
Committee chairman Keith Vaz of Labour retorted: “I find that astonishing.”
Unsure of details on occasions, Mr Buckles, who earned more than £5 million last year in pay, bonuses and shares, had to rely on colleagues as he sought to stem the tide of questions from MPs.
The £280 million contract with the London Olympics organisers had been competitively priced, he said, because G4S wanted to win the business for reputational reasons, but he conceded it had turned into “a humiliating shambles”.
By the end of questioning, Mr Buckles, who has so far not faced shareholders’ demands to quit, looked like a defeated man. The committee chairman said his performance had been “unacceptable, incompetent and amateurish”.
The home affairs committee did not divide along party lines. Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood said she had little confidence in G4S before Mr Buckles’s evidence began. “Now I don’t have any confidence at all.”
Later, she said: “I think that Mr Buckles’s performance this morning was frankly extraordinary. I don’t think that we’ve had a witness before the committee who said ‘I don’t know’ to so many questions in a row.”
Fellow Conservative Michael Ellis, who questioned whether Mr Buckles should remain in his job, said the British public was “sick of huge corporations like yours thinking they can get away with everything”.
If all had gone well, G4S would have made £10 million from the contract. Now it stands to lose £50 million or more as increasing numbers of recruited staff fail to show up at Olympic venues, leaving police to fill the gap.
The debacle has already led G4S, Mr Buckles said, to scrap plans to bid for security contracts for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games – both in Brazil.
When did you decide that, asked Mr Vaz. “Last week,” Mr Buckles replied.
The company received 110,000 applications for the Olympics jobs, which are paid at £8.50 an hour. Fifty thousand candidates were interviewed, but, from here, communications broke down, with those recruited left untold about where they should report to work and when.
Staff will get a £1-an-hour bonus at the end of the Games to encourage everyone to turn up, although G4S now has to battle stories emerging hourly that it is failing to produce even the limited numbers required this week.
In Box Hill in Surrey, which will host some of the Olympic cycling events, police had to fill gaps when 17 of 38 G4S staff did not turn up, although early inaccurate reports suggested that just 17 out of 200 had appeared. In Salford, outside Manchester, just 17 of 56 staff reported for duty.
For now, Mr Buckles, who took “100 per cent responsibility”, has insulated British home secretary Theresa May, who offered carefully chosen language when she reported to MPs on Monday, saying the problem had only “crystallised” last week.