Will No One Rid Me of This Turbulent Company?
Now that the London Olympics are receding into memory and the world has moved on to other pressing sports issues, like substitute NFL referees, the time is right to look back and ask one very important question; namely, just how badly did G4S screw up?
You remember G4S, don’t you? That is the British private security company that was unable to provide enough guards for the Summer Games and failed to disclose its problems in the buildup to the event. Its performance was so bad that the British got mad at Mitt Romney back in July when he, in one of his rare absolutely honest statements, indirectly mentioned its obvious lack of readiness.
As it turns out, the most charitable thing one can say is that G4 did badly, very badly. Others, such as British Members of Parliament would be much harsher. As evidence, consider the newly released report put out by the British Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee. In the conclusion the report states:
Reports commissioned by LOCOG [London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games] in the months preceding the Games indicated clearly that there were problems with G4S’s recruitment, training and communications. They also found that the management information presented to LOCOG by G4S were fundamentally unreliable. G4S, meanwhile, continued to insist that it was in a position to deliver its contract. Although Mr Buckles [G4 CEO] claims to have acted on all the relevant recommendations, the final outcome suggests that the changes to the data G4S were reporting to LOCOG were more presentational than substantial. The data were at best unreliable, if not downright misleading, and the most senior personnel in the company must take full responsibility for this.
To paraphrase what King Henry the Young said of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century, will no one rid me of this turbulent company?
This, by the way, was not some unfortunate confluence of events that nobody could anticipate; a perfect storm, as it were. There were many warning signs. For example:
It seems that the penny finally dropped with G4S management on 3 July, when Mr Taylor-Smith [Chief Operating Officer of G4] telephoned Mr Buckles to inform him there would be a shortfall of staff. Mr Buckles was on holiday at the time, which suggests that this was something more than a routine call. But Mr Buckles did not mention the scale of the problem to the Home Secretary when he spoke to her on 6 July, the same day on which Mr Horseman-Sewell was boasting recklessly in the press that G4S would have been more than capable of simultaneously delivering multiple Olympic security projects around the world. Neither did Mr Buckles disclose the scale of the problem when he met the Home Secretary on 10 July. It is clear that by this stage the Home Office had realised that something might be seriously amiss, as Charles Farr [Director-General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office and Chair of the Olympic Security Board] had already begun to put contingency plans into place. But it is astonishing that G4S took a further week to tell its partners how bad things were.
G4S’s debacle was far more than a black eye just for G4S. It set back the entire security industry in the United Kingdom.