There's a massive brouhaha in London right now over security for the Olympic Games, which are now just days away from beginning. Nick Buckles, the head of the security company G4S has appeared before a parliamentary committee today. And we rather like this caustic account from the Telegraph's parliamentary sketchwriter Michael Deacon:
First the Armed Forces, then the police. Let’s hope they’re enough, or goodness knows which sector of the workforce will be called up as Olympic security staff next. The nation’s traffic wardens? Its exam invigilators? Its lollipop ladies? Perhaps the athletes themselves. Usain Bolt will not only run, he’ll punch your ticket on the door, check your handbag for offensive weapons, and then bop you on the head with a truncheon if you’ve had one too many to drink.As though this weren’t enough, one of our best-loved nursery rhymes has been ruined. “Oh, the grand old Duke of York/ He had 10,000 men/ But he couldn’t march them up to the top of the hill because the Home Office requisitioned them after a monumental cock-up by a private contractor.”Today the man in charge of that private contractor, G4S, shuffled into Parliament to face MPs. This unhappy creature was Nick Buckles. With his dull orange tan and thick shaggy hair, he looked more like a 1980s Radio 1 disc jockey than a chief executive.Beside him sat a burly, shaven-headed man in a black suit. At first I assumed he was a bouncer, but then realised he couldn’t be, otherwise G4S wouldn’t have managed to recruit him.
He turned out to be Ian Horseman-Sewell, the firm’s “Global Events Specialist”. This is the same Global Events Specialist who, two weeks ago, boasted that G4S’s preparations were so watertight that, if need be, they could arrange security for a simultaneous second Olympics in Australia.
The interrogation began. MPs were united in disdain. Those wearing spectacles spent the full 90 minutes glowering over the top of their rims, in the manner of appalled elderly aunts. “Mr Buckles!” they kept snapping. “Mr Buckles!” (A tip for embattled executives: try not to have a comical surname. It sounded as if they were scolding a children’s entertainer.)Buckles buckled. Whimpering like a disgraced puppy, he agreed that his firm’s reputation was “in tatters”, and that this was “a humiliating shambles”.MPs fired demands at him, as if peppering him with buckshot. Would he reimburse the military and the police? Stump up for their accommodation? Offer them bonuses? To all these demands, Buckles – sounding horribly as though he were deciding on the spot – croaked helpless assent.By now he barely seemed to know what he was saying. He’d probably have agreed to anything they’d asked. “Will you do all our washing-up for a month? Will you spend the duration of the Games walking around East London with a ‘kick me’ sign taped to your back?”The only thing he wouldn’t surrender was G4S’s £57m “management fee”, on the grounds that “we still expect to deliver a significant number of staff”. Valiantly the MPs just about succeeded in not falling off their chairs.Somehow they succeeded again, 10 minutes later, when the benighted Buckles was asked why he was unable to guarantee that all G4S staff could speak fluent English.“I don’t know what fluent English is,” mumbled Buckles. “So what are you speaking here today? Is it fluent English?” demanded an incredulous Keith Vaz (Labour, Leicester East). “I don’t know,” replied Buckles miserably.Nick Buckles earns £1.2m a year. For now, anyway.
This really does seem to be a major debacle, and it would seem that the British government is trying its best to put some distance between it and G4S.
We certainly hope that security concerns can be addressed, and quickly. The Olympics is the world's highest profile sporting event, and being held in a country which has stood side by side with the USA in the war against terror, would be a signifcant target for terrorists. A repeat of the dark days of Munich 1972 doesn't even bear thinking about.