Isabel Hardman

Buckling under the strain

Buckling under the strain
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During the Home Affairs Select Committee's evidence session with Nick Buckles it was difficult not to fall into the trap of feeling rather sorry for the G4S chief. He was softly spoken and anxious-looking. His haircut made him look rather boyish. Next to the garishly pinstriped Ian Horseman-Sewell, he appeared more muted. Buckles even seemed a little confused by the hearing. Was the committee speaking in fluent English, Keith Vaz asked him, slightly jovially, at one point. Buckles confounded him rather by saying he didn't know.

When asked by David Winnick whether this was a 'humiliating shambles for your company', Buckles gave a sheepish reply. 'I cannot disagree with you,' he said quietly.

But Buckles is the swashbuckling boss of a security firm which, as Vaz pointed out, has its own flag and a song and has more employees than there are citizens of Luxembourg. (Vaz sounded a little jealous of this, actually. Perhaps we'll see a G4S-inspired anthem for the Home Affairs Select Committee released when Parliament returns from recess.) Buckles has a £1.2 million pay package. He also brazenly told the committee that G4s will be claiming its full £57 million management fee for the games, in spite of the shambles. At the end, Vaz also scolded Horseman-Sewell for boasting that G4S could deliver the Olympics in Australia as well as in London.

Some of the assurances that Buckles gave to the committee were a little difficult to understand as they seemed to contradict other assertions. He admitted that staff shortages only become apparent at the morning meeting on the day of each event, but told MPs that he would be able to give police and the military three to five days'' notice of any further shortages for the Olympic events. Other than having Parliament and the media breathing down his neck from now until the end of the Paralympic Games, it wasn't clear what the difference was between the daily rostering for all other events, and the security operations for the Games.

This was quite an effective committee session. They managed to squeeze out a confirmation that G4S will reimburse the police for all their costs at events where G4S staff do not turn up, and a commitment from Buckles to look at whether soldiers working in place of G4S staff might receive a bonus. Vaz, Julian Huppert, Nicola Blackwood and Winnick were, in their own ways, particularly effective interlocutors. Buckles was not an effective witness. Vaz closed the committee by telling Buckles that 'in the end it is a matter for you to decide what you do about your future'. He might survive the Games, but on today's performance, he's got a fight to survive much longer as boss.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is author of Why We Get The Wrong Politicians.

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