G4S - throwing the baby out with the bath water

Our editor, Matthew Gwyther, on why, despite the G4S Olympic debacle, outsourcing is the order of the day for cash-strapped Britain.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 28 Sep 2012

There will be those for whom the highlight of the summer was the ritual humiliation of Nick Buckles of G4S. This will have been an event which gave them more pleasure than Mo or Jess winning their medals, a warmer feeling in their heart than when the sun finally came out.  

Oh, how we all grimaced along with The Guardian’s Hoggart on Buckle’s appearance in front of the Commons select committee. "He came across as someone who couldn't organise a tea party at Twinings, or a pig-out in a pie shop. If I saw him searching bags and patting down pockets outside the beach volleyball venue, I'd run a medal-winning mile to reach safety." And off Buckles was led to the stocks where his PR minders have given him a haircut to replace the gruesome mullet before he was pelted with rotten papaya by the chatterati.  

The last thing you do when you have netted a contract, especially one so important and so high profile, is sod it up before you’ve even started to deliver by saying you can’t do it. Buckles admitted his company’s reputation was "in tatters" and the whole affair was a "humiliating shambles." He has recently revealed that G4S will not be bidding for the Olympics in Rio in 2016 and he’ll be lucky to still be in his job by Christmas. 

Ok it was pretty grim. But there are those who wish to rub G4S’s nose even deeper into the doo doo. It has now been warned that it could be blacklisted for future government contracts and there will be an almighty bout of arm twisting to stop them getting the £57 million management fee they say they are owed.

The comms lot at G4S, who have looked as effective as a bunch of mutes thus far, have come out with the statement that while very disappointed and sorry, "this does not reflect the high standards G4S delivers continuously in its other work for the UK government every day."  What if this has a certain element of truth in it?

When you’re broke as a nation, which we are, then a proper bit of outsourcing is the order of the day. Some of the prisons in private hands are better run than their grim state equivalents. Many housing associations perform a far better job of looking after social housing than local authorities. 

If you look at the police, for example, it makes no sense to be paying a uniformed officer £40k yearly to do back office paperwork that is done better and cheaper by an outside organisation. In fact the main problem is that the government has been very poor at buying from the private sector. It constantly gets rooked and turned over.  

That was why it attempted its half-hearted PR stunt of getting Philip Green to look at state procurement while he cruised around the Med on his 200 ft yacht a couple of years back. I dread to think of the reception Nick Buckles would have received if he’d been a supplier to Top Shop. He’d have been lucky to escape with his scalp, never mind his mullet.  

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