This piece is part of our debate 'The Great British Summer?'.
In his petulant performance on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme G4S chief executive Nick Buckles let slip a phrase that gave his company’s game away: “the pipeline of people”.
Explaining how the “world’s leading provider of security solutions” had failed so lamentably to provide security guards for the Olympics that 3,500 soldiers must be urgently mobilised, Buckles characterised his company’s cock-up as a “people pipeline” problem. It proved too difficult “bringing down the pipeline” from 110,000 people who applied for jobs, to the 10,000 trained security guards G4S had promised.
MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee interrogating Buckles at noon today in Committee Room 15 might take the trouble to set him straight. Fluids are conveyed down pipelines. People aren’t.
It’s a telling use of language. This past May, Buckles assured investors that executives, working hard to drive “gross margin profit improvement”, were focussed on “lowering cash losses in our cash business. . . and then in our justice business reducing escapes and fatalities.”
Escapes, fatalities, cash losses, gross margin profit, the justice business, you can say them all in the same breath; give it a try.
Perhaps those people who, in G4S’s care, have been restrained to death (Jimmy Mubenga aged 46, Gareth Myatt aged 15) or cooked to death (Aboriginal community leader Mr Ward age 46), only slipped down the wrong people pipeline.
The BBC Today Programme’s Justin Webb on Saturday handed Buckles an opportunity to acknowledge the human cost of his company’s Olympic incompetence: “What do you say to soldiers?” said Webb. “A lot of people are going to be not just inconvenienced but really desperate. What do you say to those soldiers?”
Buckles chose not to apologise to battle-weary soldiers pulled away from leave with their families to fill his people pipeline. Instead, he bumbled: “I say, you know, as we put it in our announcement, we’re very very grateful for the military providing us with the support. And the individuals, clearly, we’re very grateful they, er, er, are giving up time and family to come and help us.”
“They don’t have any choice in it, do they?” countered Webb.
“No,” said Buckles.
Leaving aside the troubling impression that soldiers might be taking orders from G4S logistics people (good luck with that), another surprise lay in how swiftly government ministers have rushed to support Buckles, who has built a multi-million pound personal fortune off the British taxpayer’s back.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Andrew Marr show: "G4S have been quite honourable. They have put their hands up.”
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, who evidently shares Buckles’s esteem for British soldiers, assured Sunday’s BBC Radio 4 The World This Weekend, “we always knew the military were going to play a part in the security of the games. . . .the armed forces are used to deploying at relatively short notice into relatively austere conditions”, as if deployment to the £8-an-hour job of searching handbags in East London were a proper use of military personnel.
But then Hunt’s and Hammond’s personal interests are more closely aligned with those of corporate executives like Nick Buckles than with public servants at the sharpest end, many of whom have seen active service and will soon be made redundant. Like Buckles, Hammond is a personal beneficiary of the public services sell-off to commercial interests. He has taken huge contributions from PriceWaterhouse Coopers and KPMG and owns a multi-million pound stake in the luxury homes and healthcare company Castlemead.
According to the Daily Mail: “Shortly before entering the Cabinet, Mr Hammond moved shares in his family property business, Castlemead, into the name of his wife, Susan, who pays tax at a lower rate.” Through nifty timing, Jeremy Hunt avoided paying £100,000 in tax on his education company’s £1.8 million property deal, reported the Daily Telegraph.
Taxes are a joke at the government’s favourite outsourcers, G4S, whose UK director David Taylor Smith quipped to colleagues and city analysts in a briefing last year, “I’m just reminding those taxpayers, if there are British taxpayers in this room, £159 million spent in this area of government”. That area was — laugh away — Welfare to Work.
G4S directors, according to the BBC’s File of 4 programme, avoid tax using the Employee Benefit Trust model that even HM Revenue & Customs calls “unacceptable”.
While armed forces families have endured a hard decade, the taxpayer’s contribution to Nick Buckles and his family has helped them to a comfortable life. This year G4S expects £1 billion of its £5 billion revenues from us. The value of Nick Buckles’s personal shares and pension pot alone last December was close to £14 million, according to the company’s Report & Accounts. His basic salary was £830,000. In perks, such as car and private health cover, he took £28,000 — that’s more than some Lance Corporals earn all year.
“Most people in the armed forces will now want to contribute to making the Olympics a huge success for Britain,” gushed the multi-millionaire defence minister Philip Hammond. Welcome to the people pipeline.
OurKingdom’s award-winning reporting on G4S is gathered here. Read Clare Sambrook’s latest piece: The UK Border Agency’s long, punitive campaign against children (helped by G4S and Serco)