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August 29, 2012

G4S's Attitude Towards its Olympics Security Failings is the Real Concern

By Spear's

Certain businessmen are furious ’ not at the fact of G4S’s mistake, but apparently because its CEO, Nick Buckles, was told off for failing to deliver what he promised.

As expected, G4S has posted a loss of around £50 million against its contract with the government after failing to supply all the security staff it promised for the Olympic Games. Nick Buckles received a severe dressing down in last month’s home affairs select committee meeting, and no doubt will receive another at next month’s meeting, yet he is still blundering around saying he is ‘unable’ to give any more details about his company’s failure. Certain other businessmen are furious – not at the fact of the mistake, but apparently because Buckles was told off for failing to deliver what he promised.

Neil Woodford, investment manager at Invesco Perpetual, has said that the ferocious reprimand Buckles received at last month’s meeting was like watching a ‘medieval persecution’. He also said, ‘if this is the way Parliament wants to treat business, please Parliament, don’t be surprised when businesses decide this isn’t the country for them.’

Woodford’s extreme annoyance at the way Buckles was treated becomes more understandable when you bear in mind that Invesco Perpetual own approximately 5 per cent of G4S’s shares. No bias at all then. But they are still unbelievable: he seems to be arguing that a country where chief executives are held to account for huge failures on the part of their companies is going to be unattractive to other businesses considering setting up there.

Nick Buckles, CEO of G4S

What? It surely looks far more unappealing when major shareholders in a company that spectacularly failed to deliver enough security staff at the Olympics – which could have been dangerous – behave indignantly and unrepentantly rather than admitting the mistake and trying to understand why it happened.

‘It’s more broadly important’, Woodford concluded, ‘because it sets a terrible precedent’. Buckles’ telling off was hardly the first time a chief executive has been held to account for incompetence – but even if it were, it wouldn’t be a ‘terrible’ precedent. Rather, Woodford’s petulant reaction sets a precedent – but let us hope his ill thought-out remarks are buried by the ongoing investigation into G4s’s failure.
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