I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is the first in a new series of blogs where I examine the issues affecting the security industry and business in general. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you are invited to post your own comments below.
Like most industry professionals, the ongoing furore surrounding the security of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games has dominated my conversations both in and out of the office. Rarely a day goes past when I’m not questioned about what I would have done differently and, perhaps more importantly, what lessons should be learnt.
For those of you unfamiliar with how this situation has played out, there is an excellent article in the August 2012 issue of Professional Security magazine, which is well worth a read.
Before I start I would like to state that despite G4S being a direct competitor of Corps Security, I don’t intend to use its current predicament to score points – but I’m not going to try to defend it either. Having not been party to the decisions that took place it would be unwise and unhelpful for me to add further uniformed speculation – the general news media can do that for us. However, we cannot ignore the facts and there are a number of key questions that need to be answered before we can fully understand what went wrong.
In December 2010 G4S was awarded the entire project management contract for London 2012 security. Given the scale of the project, it begs the question about why a syndicated arrangement wasn’t put in place from the beginning? Doing so would have allowed a number of companies to operate together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration in order to meet the security needs of the biggest single event this country has ever witnessed. It was a question I pondered then and one that I keep coming back to.
Perhaps the answer lies in the perceived ease of only having to deal with one service provider. Originally, G4S was contracted to provide 2,000 SIA licensed security personnel, with an additional 8,000 sourced from the Bridging the Gap programme. This scheme offered students the opportunity to undertake door supervisor training, which is part of SIA licensing, followed by Skills for Security, a National Occupational Standards aligned course. The students that took part were exempt from any requirement to be SIA licensed under the terms of a statutory instrument.
Even though G4S was responsible for role specific training of Bridging the Gap students once recruited, on that basis could it have fulfilled such a contract? Absolutely! It is the biggest company of its kind with a global workforce of 657,000 employees, with the capability to meet these requirements.
This all changed though in December 2011 when, for reasons not yet fully explained, G4S was subsequently made responsible for supplying up to 10,400 guards – including new recruits, existing employees and subcontractors. It was also given management responsibility for 735 existing guards on the Olympic Park, up to 3,700 Bridging the Gap programme graduates, 1,000 Wilson James guards, 5,000 armed forces personnel and 3,000 ‘games makers’. Factoring in incumbent security staff at various other venues, the total number of security personnel required for G4S to manage was approximately 23,700.
At this point it should have been clear to all concerned that for one company to provide 10,400 personnel was impossible within such a short period of time. This prompts two further questions, why the sudden leap from 2,000 to 10,400 and why was this decided seven months before the event was due to start?
Had this decision been made a year earlier, it wouldn’t have been a problem. There are about 380,000 SIA license holders in the UK, so to find 10,400 for London 2012 would have been easy enough. However for one company to take new industry entrants, put them through four days of training for the SIA license along with further training specific to both the games and their individual tasks, with only a few months until the opening ceremony, it was never going to happen. Despite this, home secretary Theresa May claims that G4S ‘repeatedly assured’ ministers it would ‘overshoot their targets’ for security staffing.
Once the true scale of the problem came to light, I was disappointed that G4S chief executive, Nick Buckles, didn’t do more to defend his company, rather than just holding his hands up and declaring the situation ‘a shambles’. Although at the select committee hearing Buckles also said that G4S’s reputation lies ‘in tatters’, the repercussions of this event go much further. We have all been tainted by the negative publicity it has caused and we will all have to spend the next couple of years repairing the damage.