Julian Huppert on G4S and the Cambridgeshire Police Contract

17:07 Tuesday 17th July 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: We start tonight with news about G4S, the company at the centre of the Olympic security shambles, and the same firm inline to take over the admin. of Cambridgeshire Police force. They’ve been named as the preferred bidder by our county’s Police Authority. But tonight, that potential deal is under intense scrutiny. It follows a humiliating appearance in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee by the Chief Executive of G4S, Nick Buckles, who said he was sorry for failing to provide thousands of promised guards for the Olympic Games, bust insisted, to the astonishment of many watching, that he still intended to claim his management fee of £57 million. He was questioned closely by Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, a member of the Committee, on a further failure by his firm, just today, when only 30 security staff turned up for an Olympic task, when 200 were contracted for. (TAPE)
JULIAN HUPPERT: So can we be clear then, that for example for the Box Hill cycling event this morning, when there were supposed to be 200 staff, and only 30 showed up, you’d actually only rostered 35 staff or so. Is that what you’re saying?
JULIAN HUPPERT: When did you inform other partner organisations, the Police, LOCOG, that you had completely failed to roster the vast majority of people that were needed for an event this morning.
NICK BUCKLES: The daily meetings highlight where we’re going to have shortfalls.
JULIAN HUPPERT: So you’re rostering on a daily basis, and you don’t know until a day in advance ..
NICK BUCKLES: So we’re planning now further ahead. We’ve only really started to get this in action in the last 48 hours. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Well later Mr Huppert joined me to give his verdict on the performance of Mr Buckles, and the suitability of G4S to run Cambridgeshire Police force’s admin. (TAPE)
JULIAN HUPPERT: It was truly astonishing to hear Mr Buckles. Running G4S, a company with I think 660,000 employees, and he really performed .. well the official verdict of the Committee was “amateurishly”. It was really astonishing how badly prepared they were, and that they still want to claim their management fee for failing to manage a contract. And millions of pounds that they want. But we also forced them to pay out lots of money to the police and the military.
CHRIS MANN: They agreed this is a shambles. How did it get this far down the road, before the Government realised that?
JULIAN HUPPERT: Well this is what’s so interesting, is exactly how it did happen. And they say the realised there was a problem on 3rd July, and there are some questions about why they were so late. And they immediately told some of the officials in the Home Office, in particular a guy called Charles Farr, who then apparently didn’t tell any ministers, who assumed everything was going fine, because nobody told them anything else. So there are a huge number of questions that have to be asked, about exactly how that happened. and why they didn’t tell anybody, or indeed why they didn’t tell the Stock Exchange that a huge failure was about to happen to a very public company.
CHRIS MANN: A very important point, ten days before the Olympics, is how do we prevent that from becoming a debacle, or a security nightmare.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Well indeed. And that’s why the police has had to step in, and the military has had to step in. And that’s a profound humiliation for a company like G4S, which specialised in being able to take over public sector contracts. They’ve had to be bailed out in a really huge way.We pressed very hard today, and Mr Buckles, I have to say, didn’t seem entirely on top of his game. So we just pushed some answers from him. And he has agreed to pay the costs of the police, the costs of the military, the costs of accommodation. He opened the idea of paying bonuses to the police, to the military, as well as not claiming the money for the shifts that they don’t cover. So it’s going to be a very expensive deal for G4S.
CHRIS MANN: G4S are of course the preferred bidder for the three force collaboration, involving Cambridgeshire, Bedordshire and Hertsfordshire Police to outsource jobs. They are the preferred bidder at the moment. Should that Mr Huppert now be changed?
JULIAN HUPPERT: Well I think there are many many more questions that have to be asked. Mr Buckles was very clear that this was a problem that only affected the Olympics. But it seems to me it’s a fundamental problem as to whether they can actually get the staff to show up to jobs which they claim that they do. I asked whether they had to be bailed out like this on any other occasion, and Mr Buckles said no. I wonder of that’s the full story. But it certainly raises massive concerns about whether anybody else would want to go ahead with a contract with G4S. And I think Mr Buckles knew that he was fighting to save his company’s life when he was presenting, as well as of course his own career.
CHRIS MANN: They were supposed to have 200 people at an event today. In the end, they rostered 35, and only 30 turned up, of 200 they were paid to have. Now we can’t have that happening in the back room of Cambridgeshire Police.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Well absolutely. And in fairness to them, they are gradually beginning to get a handle on it. They now claim that they can tell the police with 24 hours notice how many people they won’t be able to supply. They’re hoping that will become four days notice. But that’s still completely unacceptable for a major scheme like this. And I think they know that’s a humiliation. And yes, we don’t want to have contracts performing that badly. And G4S have had a bad track record. I was somewhat involved, and the Home Affairs Select Committee was, with the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who was a refugee who was being deported, and was killed while on a plane being flown out of the country, escorted by G4S officials. There was a decision just today which raised a number of concerns about what happened, but decided not to prosecute G4S, probably very good for them. So they have a track record of having problems like that. They’ve a track record of treating some of their staff very badly, and we’ve had a lot of correspondence about that. It’s really very very alarming, what we’re learning about the company.
CHRIS MANN: So if we had known, back then, when the decision was made to make them the preferred option, if we’d known then what we know now, would they be the preferred option for Cambridgeshire Police?
JULIAN HUPPERT: It’s very hard for me to answer that question. It was the Police Authority that made that decision, and Ruth Rodgers the Chair in particular who’s an independent appointee. So I think there are many questions that the Police Authority ought to be reflecting on. And what this says about the track record of G4S – Mr Buckles as the Chief Executive has said that he judges people very heavily on their track record – I think we should do the same thing to him.
CHRIS MANN: Well I’ll ask your opinion Mr Huppert. There were five other options offered. They were the preferred option. Should, in your view, the Police Authority now go back and look at the other options again?
JULIAN HUPPERT: I think they should reconsider it. But that’s not saying that any of the other options would necessarily be better. We know that this has been a disaster for G4S. But it’s entirely possible some of the other people bidding for the contract would have had similar problems. And I think part of it is about the implicit insurance that a company like G4S know that if they get it horribly wrong, the police or the army, or whoever it is, will step in to rescue them. And that isn’t a luxury that the public sector has.
CHRIS MANN: Well then that begs the question, do we actually outsource police jobs? When we had a perfectly good support system for Cambridgeshire Police, why not stick with that, rather than taking a risk with a company like G4S?
JULIAN HUPPERT: The key test is whether it actually provides a better service and saves money. You have to take into account of that, what happens if it goes wrong. And what’s clear from the Olympics contract is that that risk of it just going wrong was not sufficiently taken account of. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge.