Why did G4S bite off more than it could chew?

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.


8 thoughts on “Why did G4S bite off more than it could chew?

  1. Peter, your thoughts are spot on and totally fair. Now that the main Olympic events are safely behind us (we have the Paralympics starting two weeks from now of course) it is fitting to recognise the good work done by the individual private security operatives who by all accounts, did a great job. I am saddened to see some Press reports where the Police and Military are being praised (and rightly so) for their contribution to the Games’ security, but with no mention of the role played by the private security teams. That is simply unfair, and unjust. It will also be interesting to see whether LOCOG and the government officials who sanctioned the appointment of only one private security contractor, will ‘face the music’ for what many of us viewed as a flawed decision at the time.

  2. £284 million that’s the top and tail of it .The man/company was blinkered by pound signs.
    I see the £57 million management fee (LOL) is being targeted for penaltys’s and they are donating £2.5 million to the Armed Forces. I was never that good at Maths, but Im sure after the penalty’s,overheads and the bonus they wont need to pay Nick Buckles now, theres still a hefty profit in there.

  3. Peter As you know managing security effectively is about managing risk. Putting all your eggs into one basket was quite simply irresponsible apart from being uncommercial. Had I been in charge of the main provider I would have recommended that LOCOG spread its risk. That advice alone would have returned many credits in so many different ways. A lesson for those faced with an apparent honey pot!

  4. Peter thanks for a very interesting summary of the G4S Olympics security fiasco. Now that the initial fury has settled down and of course we bathe in the success of Team GB I think its a good time to start asking some probing questions relating to this. G4S must be thinking the same as they have appointed PwC to carryout a review of their failings.

    I do think that there is more to this and that G4S are not the only party to blame, however they were contracted (£284m) as a service provider and they have failed to fulfill their contractual obligations.

    I also absolutely agree with Mike’s comment regarding rewarding private security (not just the Armed Forces and Police) in what was the largest peacetime security operation since WWII. I recently wrote about this on my blog and currently have a survey on ‘Who should receive a commemorative Olympic coin for their security contribution’? Feel free to visit at http://www.chatbacksecurity.com.

  5. Pingback: Olympics Security – Why did G4S bite off more than it could chew? | Chatback Security

  6. Hi Peter

    First of all, I believe Corps Thinking is an excellent step to take. Robust and thought-provoking opinion pieces such as that above move the debate forward around key issues and help the profession of security to progress for the betterment of all concerned.

    As you know, at Info4Security.com we’ve covered the Olympics security story in great depth and detail from Day One and, in conjunction with Bobby Logue, I’ve called for an independent review of what has happened. This, I believe, is absolutely essential and must take place.

    I strongly suspect that it’s only when this review is conducted and the findings published we’ll know the full truth of the matter.

    From my own point of view, I found the Home Affairs Committee hearing – which I watched in full, live on Parliament TV – to be utterly distasteful in terms of the way in which it was conducted.

    Further, why has no-one from LOCOG or the Home Office been subjected to such a barbed ‘grilling’ similar to that which was dished out to Nick Buckles and Ian Horseman-Sewell?

    Incidentally, to my mind that hearing was somewhat prejudiced by comments made in the House of Commons days earlier.

    For the record, Nick Buckles has done a tremendous job since taking charge at G4S. The integration of the old Securicor and Group 4 Falck businesses alone was a mammoth logistical project, and the business and brand has gone from strength to strength under his stewardship.

    For him to be hounded by the national press and point-scoring politicians – with the latter, in all honesty, some way from being beyond reproach – over Olympic security arrangements without said parties knowing the full facts of the matter is simply not acceptable.

    In my view, this episode demands that the security profession unites as one and vigorously defends its territory and its raison d’etre.

    Ultimately, we cannot afford to lose the immense goodwill and image enhancement started (and sustained) during the period of Security Industry Authority licensing and regulation.

    As Shakespeare once wrote in The Merchant of Venice: “The truth will out”… and, when it does, it must surely be possible that the ‘fingers of blame’ in relation to the Olympic security story may well point in a different direction to that which they have done to date.

  7. Oh Dear Peter. You “dont want to score points” and then try to do precisely that. Sadly despite the people agreeing with you I have to take issue with your rationale. The problem was caused by a Government too mean to understand that to provide these numbers of staff required early recruitment and payment of them for a prolonged period. The idea that you can recruit months earlier and then bring them into employment for a few weeks is ludicrous. The fault of G4S was to be too afraid to deny the Government the cheapness it was looking for. Syndicated arrangement? Please. We are in an industry where companies still try to mess around with TUPE information for goodness sake.

    Our Industry opened its books many years ago and consequently we suffer from low margins and competition making silly claims about what they can deliver. The customer constantly changes supplier not just because the next guy will claim to do it cheaper but also because the last guy fails to deliver at such a cheap rate.

    I have just seen the Corps latest accounts. Perhaps before you hold forth on not defending but not scoring points from G4S you should get your own house in order. Attacking the competition ( despite your attempt to be honest John, Guv) simply because they are the competition is silly really and doesn’t help the industry in any way ,shape or form.

  8. Hi Martin

    Thank you for your comments on my blog. The whole point of the blog is to open topics up to debate, and all contributions are welcome. In many ways we are saying the same thing; we cannot criticise G4S without knowing all of the facts. When did the decision on the increase in the number of guards happen, who made the decision, and was G4S given a realistic option of refusing?

    Regarding a syndicated approach, I am perhaps not as cynical about the industry’s ability to collaborate as you are. If different companies had been given different venues to manage – under one G4S lead collaborative body – I think it could have worked. We would all want our own company’s venue to be the best, but the central collaborative body would have ensured a consistent approach.

    Regarding Corps accounts, I have resisted making this blog about Corps as it is about the industry.

    However I would say that we are proud of our achievements and, because of our unique shareholding arrangement, we cannot be judged by the usual company standards. Our shareholders have never had – or wanted – a dividend in 153 years. They are interested only in ensuring that our heritage of service, honesty and loyalty is maintained. This means in practice that we reinvest any surplus back into our business.

    My blog is not attempt to attack the competition and my comments on the industry apply to all, including Corps Security. You know how difficult it is to break the mould and stay competitive. I am trying to start a debate that just might provide a catalyst for change… ever the optimist!


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