As G4S chief executive Nick Buckles answers questions from MPs about the firm’s handling of Olympics security, the culture secretary tells Channel 4 News there will be a “very thorough post-mortem”.
Mr Buckles appeared before the home affairs select committee with G4S‘s director of major events, Ian Horseman-Sewell. The pair were grilled by a panel of MPs, clearly angry about G4S’s failure to provide adequate security cover for Olympics venues.
The failure has seen 3,500 military personnel and police drafted in to cover staff shortfalls. Mr Buckles confirmed to the panel that G4S will reimburse police forces for the cost of providing emergency cover.
He was forced to agree with the committee when asked if the company’s reputation is now in tatters. “I think at the moment I would have to agree with you,” conceded Mr Buckles.
Asked by Labour MP David Winnick if it was a “humiliating shambles for the company”, Mr Buckles said: “I could not disagree with you.”
For now what we want to do is make sure that G4S are part of the team, to make sure that the public can be completely reassured that the Olympics will be safe Jeremy Hunt
He admitted that he regretted signing the Olympics contract having also told the committee G4S had accepted it in order to boost the firm’s repuation and because he “wanted to deliver a secure Olympics”.
Mr Buckles, who recently told Channel 4 News that he is worth his £1.2m salary, again apologised for his company’s failure to arrange sufficient cover for Olympics security but stressed he had been highly confident that G4S would be able to provide the amount of staff it had promised.
Mr Horseman-Sewell was asked about a quote he gave to Reuters just before news broke of the staff shortfall where he claimed the company would be able to provide security for two simultaneous Olympics, one in London and one in Australia.
Read more: who knew what and when? Channel 4 News traces the timeline of the Olympics security debacle
He told MPs he regretted making the comments but said that although he knew there were problems, he sincerely believed they could be overcome.
Both men were adamant they thought G4S could deliver on its contractual obligation even after Mr Buckles was alerted to the scale of the problems, which were so serious that they prompted him to fly home from a visit to the United States.
Mr Buckles stressed that the Olympics contract is exceptional and that the company has a very good track record on delivery of its other contracts, £600m of which are with the Home Office.
Mr Buckles admitted he could not even guarantee how many security guards would turn up on the first day of the Olympics. But he added that it was his “expectation” that 7,000 G4S staff would be there.
“We’re still confident, together with the military and the police, that we can deliver a safe and secure Olympics,” he said. He added that 500 extra troops were also being held in reserve, in case they were needed.
Labour MP Bridget Phillipson told Mr Buckles she was left with the feeling that he was “making it up as you go along”. Tory MP Nicola Blackwood said Mr Buckles’s performance before the MPs “would lead quite a lot of people to despair”.
“I had very little confidence in G4S fulfilling this contract before this session started and now I don’t have any confidence at all.”
The men’s appearance coincided with news that just 30 of a required 300 G4S security staff had apparently turned up at the Olympics cycling venue at Box Hill in Surrey.
This was denied by Mr Horseman-Sewell who said G4S was supposed to provide just 38 people for the event at 9am. Organisers were told yesterday that the firm expected to provide 17, he added.
G4S’s share price continued to perform badly, having already dropped around 15 per cent since news of the scandal broke.
Meanwhile Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt refused to be drawn into a “blame game” over who is at fault for security failings. He told Channel 4 News: “It’s ten days until the opening ceremony and G4S have an important role. They’ve got more than 4,000 guards looking after Olympic venues today and we want them to carry on being a partner of ours.”
But he promised a “very, very full post-mortem … there’s a time for that and after the Olympics is the time we’ll do that”.
He added: “But for now what we want to do is make sure that G4S are part of the team, along with police officers, along with troops, to make sure that the public can be completely reassured that the Olympics will be safe.”