Saturday, 21 July 2012

Every cloud has a silver lining

The shambles that G4S has made of Olympic security could actually lead to something good. By making a complete dog's breakfast of providing security for an event whose exact date and size was known, they've made people rethink whether it's a good idea to contract them to provide the more general security for the UK, where often the date and size of the problem isn't known. Think of the riots in August 2011.

Up till now, there's been a tendency among senior police management to feel that money could be saved by hiving off significant portions of policing to the private sector. The police are (it is alleged by the Windsor report) over-paid, over-pensioned, over-staffed and over-weight. None of this is true, of course (and to be fair to the Windor report, that isn't quite what it says, but that's what the media have made of it).

In Lincolnshire, for example, G4S has a 10-year, £200 million contract to provide services to the police. And until recently, other forces were considering following suit.

But would you hire a company that doesn't seem to be able to staff a piss-up in a brewery?

What did G4S do wrong?

In many ways, it doesn't matter. Whatever it is that's wrong in G4S management, is still there, and chanting "Lessons will be learned" doesn't fool anyone. Because they probably don't know what went wrong. And they didn't actually know it was going wrong until just a couple of weeks ago, by which time it was too late for G4S to do much.

My guess about what went wrong is this. They decided on a "Just in time" policy; not to pay people just to sit around and wait until July, but to hire them well ahead of time, train them up, and then ony pay them for the two weeks that they'd be working. How could this possibly go wrong, especially in a time of record unemployment? Here's how.

1) Pay minimum wage.
2) Completely over-estimate the percentage of people you've trained, who will still be available in July.

Now look at it from the point of view of the employee. G4S are paying you for the training time, so you turn up for that. And you assure them that you're keen and raring to go when July will come. But then, you're G4S trained, but not getting pay from G4S. So you continue looking for a job. And if you find one, then A) it pays at least as much as G4S will be paying, and B) will last more than two weeks and C) you don't tell G4S, because why should you, maybe you will acually need that G4S temp job if your current job doesn't work out. So, come the day that G4S ask you to turn up, you don't. And G4S is very surprised, and there's no plan B.

And I'm thinking that it might be even worse than we currently think. Until the day that you ask people to arrive for G4S duties, you don't actually know how many will show. In Manchester only 9 out of 140 turned up for training.

And it would be an extremely brave Senior Police Management who proposed using G4S for security duties in the teeth of the G4S Olympic fiasco.

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