G4S is the UK's biggest private security company, with its government contracts alone worth over £600 million. Responsible for security services, managing detention centres, prisons, and 675 court and police station holding cells, G4S have also just been granted the £100 million contract for providing 10,000 security guards for the upcoming olympics.

Whilst G4S still seem to be government favourites, their record is far from spotless. The firm lost their previous 'forcible deportation' contract last September after receiving 773 complaints of abuse – both verbal and physical. The final straw came with the death of Jimmy Mubenga in October 2010, an Angolan asylum seeker who died as a result of his forced deportation by G4S guards. Two of the guards are on bail facing criminal charges, whilst G4S is still waiting to hear whether they are to face corporate manslaughter charges.

Now, asylum seekers in Yorkshire and Humberside are expected to accept this multi-national, money-hungry, security company as their landlords.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Masterclass in Privatised Security: G4S and the Olympics

The Guardian put the allegations to G4S. A spokesman for the company responded: "We are unable to respond to the specific questions you raise because to do so would involve pulling staff, who are working hard to mobilise the 2012 workforce, off the work they are doing."We will enquire into the claims that are made and we take very seriously any allegation of poor standards on our part."  
The Guardian, 13th July 2012
Although they were originally contracted to provide 2,000 security staff, G4S' new multi-million pound contract with Games provider LOCOG now requires them to provide 13,700 guards over the course of the Olympics. Over the last few days, it has been revealed that - two weeks before the opening ceremony - only 4,000 G4S guards are fully vetted, trained and in place to provide the service. G4S' assurance that a further 9,000 are in the pipeline hasn't convinced the Home Office who have now drafted in Army reserves to fill the gaping whole. A total of 17,000 servicemen will now be involved in Olympic security.

Teresa May assured the Commons that details about G4S' failure to honour the terms of the contract only came to her knowledge on Wednesday (11th July), although it seems as if ministers had been aware about the possibility of calling in extra troops for the past couple of weeks. G4S' own heads may have also been in the sands, with the managing director of G4S Global Events telling Reuters early in the week that "we are keen to pursue events all over the globe and we do have the scale to do more than one thing at once." These "nine-figure aspirations" look set to dissipate under the pressure of criticism from government and media alike.

It's difficult to sift through the pages of reportage that swiftly followed G4S' Olympian fall from grace without a wry smile creeping across my face. We've already found reasons to take issue with G4S' creeping control of public services, but now so has everyone else. 

The idea of a private security army being hired to 'secure' the Olympic Games - in the twisted Orwellian fantasy that is the 2012 London Olympic Games - makes perfect sense. In this hyper-commercialised space, where non-MacDonald chips are only allowed to be served as an accompaniment to fish and 80% of all Olympic visitors expected to be coaxed through the new Westfield shopping centre in Stratford en route to the Olympic Village, we have been given an exclusive preview of what a world run by private companies with 'commercial interests' could become.

Keith Vaz, the Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman, declared that "G4S has let the country down and we have literally had to send in the troops" and stated that all public contracts with G4S should be reviewed and all potential contracts shelved. Another Liberal Democrat MP and member of the public accounts committee, Ian Swales, stated that concerns about G4S' extortionate profit margins had been continually raised in meetings:
"We were really concerned because when the announcement of doubling of the number of security personnel was made we looked at the breakdown of the costs and we saw that the G4S contract was going up from £86 to £284 million, which felt like a colossal amount of money. [...] For these large amounts of money you would expect excellent service so to me this is just compounding a felony, vast sums of money buying a service that is very poor quality." 
Similar concerns have already been voiced by Jeremy Corbyn (Labour) and Dan Rogerson (Liberal Democrat) in Parliament.

G4S' capacity to execute the £284 million pound contract was also put in doubt when aspects of their interview and training processes were revealed by the press. Experienced ex-police officers and prison officers were appalled by the level of incompetence found within G4S' administrative staff, claiming that the company clearly didn't have sufficient staff and methods in place to deal with the sheer quantity of applicants. Many have still not received accreditation, uniform or confirmation of their employment. It is little wonder that G4S' own Facebook page is fast becoming a forum for angry employees.

Future procurement prospects in the policing sector have also been put in doubt. Surrey Police have now shelved plans for police privatisation with G4S' Olympic Security fiasco cited as a reason for delaying the decision. The police authority chairman, Peter Williams, told press that "members agreed today that it is right that we should suspend our involvement at this time and that we should look to withdraw altogether following a more detailed assessment of our options in September."

When the City and Government have become quasi-synonymous, it is hardly surprising that the government is threatening G4S with financial penalties. And even these financial penalties are under question. Whilst LOCOG stated that G4S would be charged for failing to provide the number of staff it promised, a government source - speaking to the Independent - stated that the contract was in fact drawn up on a pro-rata basis, with G4S paid per guard rather than for the whole security contract. However, by Friday (13th July) evening, G4S conceded that it expects to lose between £35 and £50 million for its failure to honour the terms of the contract. Their net market value also dropped by £150 million in the past two days.

Now, history tells us that the governments attraction to G4S's commercial viability has not been dented by charges, scandal or slander. The death of Jimmy Mubenga, potentially being charged with corporate manslaughter, tides of complaints brought against the company by detainees (a record 773 in 2010), rises in prisoner suicides in G4S run prisons, and countless other 'questionable' aspects of G4S' track record have not - so far - been sufficiently considered in government due diligence procedures as reason to reconsider their suitability for new contracts. Despite having their forcible deportation contract cut short in 2011 (after the death of Jimmy Mubenga), G4S have still been awarded multi-million pound asylum housing contracts in Yorkshire, the North East and the Midlands. In the words of one Independent columnist: "In the City, the odd migrant death and PR slip doesn't seem to make a dent on analyst expectations of a public-sector contract bonanza." If 'City' is swiftly accompanied by 'Government', we've hit the nail right on the head.

With the Olympics putting London centre stage, a scandal on this scale cannot be seen to go unpunished. Yet it saddens me that serious issues regarding the safety and protection of asylum seekers in the UK - who have been subject to atrocious G4S service provision for the past few years - have failed to rouse such an indignant roar from the press. This Olympic security catastrophe has given the government a masterclass in the ethos of privatisation: profit before people, and even before product. Lets not make any more mistakes.

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