Yesterday a man called Nick Buckles retired, aged 52, with a fortune in excess of £20 million. He is not an inventor or an entrepreneur. He has not risked his own capital. He is a company executive who has got rich from Britain's privatisation boom.
The British people spend more than £1 billion a year on public services supplied by G4S, the world's largest security company. Last week G4S swallowed £18 million to run child maintenance services for the Department of Work and Pensions, adding to the list of contracts they've been given by the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. G4S runs prisons and immigration centres, tags offenders, manages NHS facilities under the Private Finance Initiative. They've even moved into policing.
Chief executive Nick Buckles resisted calls to resign for his part in two spectacular failures. In 2011 G4S had to scrap a £5 billion bid for a cleaning and catering business, squandering £50 million in fees. Then came the Olympic fiasco. G4S failed to supply enough security guards for the London Games. The government was forced to call in the Army.
Yesterday, the company said Goodbye to Nick Buckles.
He won't feel the chill. Last year they paid him £1,185,551. He'll get £830,000 in lieu of notice. He's got a pension pot worth £10 million. He owns more than two million G4S shares: that's another £5.5 million. Then he's got up to £19 million of shares in a tax avoidance device. Perfectly lawful, they call it the G4S Employee Benefits Trust.
All this generosity is approved by a committee chaired by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Condon. Figuring it all out isn't easy. It takes nearly 6000 words to explain in the company's annual report. (PDF)
Taking over public services pays well. But it's bad news for workers' pay and conditions. The ethos of public service wilts. We can name some of the casualties.
Jimmy Mubenga died in 2010 after undergoing "restraint" by G4S security guards during a forced deportation. His story raises questions about a casual workforce and duty of care.
Last week at Isleworth Crown Court an inquest jury heard from Stuart Tribelnig, the G4S security guard in charge of restraining Mubenga, an Angolan father of five who was healthy until the moment of his death.
Tribelnig admitted to receiving and forwarding a string of racist jokes on his mobile phone. He read them out in court. The jokes aggressively targeted black men, Pakistanis and Muslims. He insisted that they "did not reflect his beliefs or influence his treatment of the deportees he removed from the UK".
Last year the Crown Prosecution Service said it would not be prosecuting G4S for corporate manslaughter. Former Prisons Inspector Lord Ramsbotham, who is leading an inquiry into the use of restraint, told the House of Lords:
“In the face of all the evidence that we have gathered, quite apart from all the other evidence that was available, I find that CPS decision, at kindest, perverse."
Ramsbotham went on: "Passengers reported hearing Mr Mubenga cry out that he could not breathe and that the guards were killing him."
He added: "There had been Home Office warnings to G4S in 2006 about the dangers of using positional asphyxia."
Jimmy Mubenga was not the first person to die after restraint by G4S. There was fifteen-year-old Gareth Myatt, who had refused to clean the sandwich toaster at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre near Rugby in 2004. Ramsbotham told Peers:
"There had been stringent criticisms by the coroner in the case of Gareth Myatt, following the use of similar procedures for restraint by G4S guards. He, too, had called out that he could not breathe before he died.”
The Aboriginal elder Mr Ward was cooked to death in a G4S van with faulty air conditioning in the western Australia goldfields in January 2008. Warnings had been ignored. In April 2011 G4S pleaded guilty to failing to ensure Mr Ward’s health and safety.
Chatting about the Australian market with city analysts later that year Nick Buckles said: “We haven't had a good run recently on care and justice because of a major incident that happened about three years ago".
Looking on the bright side he said:
“there is only two or three major players, typically sometimes only two people bidding for care and justice. And with . . . our global expertise, in time we will become a winner in that market because there's a lot of outsourcing opportunities and not many competitors operating down there.”
Here in Britain, John Grayson, in these pages, has described the way in which the housing of asylum seekers has been contracted to G4S and then subcontracted to smaller private companies, adding layers of complication and cost, stretching even further the distance between vulnerable people and the state which owes them a duty of care, profit extracted from every layer.
Lately Grayson told the story of Angela and her baby, bullied and harassed in frequent forced moves between filthy infested dwellings.
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