The furore surrounding the G4S security company’s London Olympics debacle shows no sign of abating. The fact that G4S screwed up spectacularly in providing less than a third of the 10,000 plus security guards, for which it was contracted, is bad enough but to then learn that the hapless yet grasping Chief Executive, Nick Buckles, still intends to collect the company’s £57 million management fee leaves one almost lost for words. Surely to claim a management fee you have to have managed something and preferably in a positive sense rather than a negative, as in managed to make a complete cock-up of the security arrangements for the biggest sporting event on the planet for which, incidentally, you had 2 years to prepare.
If this story has shown us one thing it is that there is no government or public sector monopoly on incompetence. In the past we have been told, sometimes with justification, that the private sector (favoured by the Conservatives and New Labour) with its healthy culture of free market competition will always serve the country best. In contrast the public sector (favoured by socialist Labour) is perceived, again sometimes with justification, to be slow, pedantic and overly bureaucratic.
The ineptitude of G4S should make us reconsider these perceptions, because this isn’t the first time that the company, either in its present carnation or its previous persona of Group 4, has made headlines for its bungling. The company also looks after security at HM Prisons and the transportation of prisoners to and from court and has hardly covered itself in glory in the performance of either of those tasks either. Surprisingly, or so you would think, the company still gets work from the Government and receives millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for its “services”. The question needs to be asked who keeps giving G4S all this business and why? The person or persons responsible should be made to explain themselves.
When the dust has settled on this sorry affair the whole question of public v private needs to be carefully considered and acted upon. It seems to me that some things are just too important and sensitive to be farmed out to the private sector and areas such as security, transport, the NHS and education should remain the sole responsibility of the Government, accountable as it is to the electorate.
The G4S case is a perfect illustration of this point. Our armed forces and Police are largely well trained and good at the jobs they do, both are experts in armed security and they are being laid off by the thousand. The Government needs security for the Olympic Games and instead of saving money (and jobs) by relying upon the readymade expertise at its fingertips it calls in, at great expense to the public purse, a private company many of whose employees are not even British. Lord help us!