David Rubens – The G4S LOCOG affair

David Rubens, Managing Director of David Rubens Associates
David Rubens, Managing Director of David Rubens Associates

In David Rubens second exclusive article for Infologue.com he shares his opinion on the G4S LOCOG affair, having sat behind G4S CEO Nick Buckles, whilst he was giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday. David writes;

The call by Bobby Logue  and Brian Sims  for an independent enquiry into the whole G4S / LOCOG affair has signalled the beginning of the backlash by the UK security industry in response to the mob mentality led by the government and the Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Keith Vaz, on G4S in general and its Chief Executive, Nick Buckles in particular. This is clearly an important step, not only as a signal of the intention to take back the issue of the mismanagement of the entire development and delivery of the Olympic security project from politicians who know little about the subject , and who anyway measure it purely in terms of what benefit it will be to their own career (it’s not their fault – they’re politicians….), but also because there is the realisation that it is vital for the future reputation of UK plc that it is seen across the world as taking responsibility for this situation, and offering real-time solutions that can be delivered in the face of extremely challenging timescales and conditions. If the efforts involved in the project so far have been an unmitigated embarrassment to the claims that the 2012 Olympics offers a once-in a lifetime opportunity to present UK excellence to a global audience, then it is still possible that the period between now and the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympics on 9th September offers at least some chance of redemption – and it is one that with correct leadership, a clear vision and a genuinely unified effort, should not be beyond the capabilities of a professional sector that has consistently proven itself as adaptable and resilient (as well as possessing world-class capabilities, whatever impression may have been given over the last week). If you judge a man by the challenges he accepts, then there is no reason that the UK security sector should not, if given the opportunity, be judged on how it responds to what is clearly, to use a politician’s phrase, a ‘less than optimal scenario’.

I was in the Home Affairs Committee Room when Nick Buckles was being questioned on Tuesday, and it was immediately clear that he had come to the session unprepared, had no game plan, and was not able to answer the questions (which he must have known were coming) in any cohesive manner.

There is no question that G4S has screwed up the running of this contract in a major way, and there are a whole range of reasons for that which will be discussed in depth over the coming months, but Nick Buckles was in that Committee Room as the chairman of the largest security company in the world, with a market value of £4.7 billion and a significant exposure to UK government contracts (over 50% of their UK income is generated from government work).  Bobby Logue and Brian Sims make some serious and cogent points about the initial conception of the contract, as well as some of the hurdles in the way of successful delivery, but Nick Buckles had clearly not spent any time preparing his case, game-planning his arguments, or creating a strategy that would allow him to apologise, explain, and then move onto the front foot by showing real leadership and a commitment to making things right.

I have been reminded very strongly of the similar situation that Tony Hayward went through as Chairman of BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affair. There seems to be three areas where BP fell down there, and they are being mirrored exactly by G4S here. The first is Stage 1, where BP and G4S gain their market position by the utilising the fact that they are world leaders in that particular sector, have the level of management and expertise to deliver a highly complex operation, and have the corporate and operational spread to develop and manage a nose-to-tail total package. Stage 2 begins when things start to go wrong, and it becomes clear that actually they have not had anywhere near the correct level of corporate or operational management oversight in the run up to the problem (which has almost certainly been giving off signals that something is not right, before it escalates into full-blown crisis status), nor the management or operational capability to respond to and control the problems once they do start escalating beyond ‘normal’ status.  It then becomes clear that the problems that have developed are in fact an unavoidable and inevitable consequence of the failure to manage the interaction between highly complex sub-sections of the over-all procedures, combined with systemic failures of the management and oversight system at every level of the operation. However, the third stage, and the one that I think is the point here, is that when the Chairman stepped forwards to protect and defend both the reputation and market value of his company, they were clearly inadequate for the job. Just as Tony Hayward will be remembered for ‘I would like to get my life back’, so G4S will be remembered for the fact that Ian Horseman-Sewell (he was the one sitting next to Buckles in the Committee hearing) had claimed on 6th July (3 days after Buckles had informed the Home Secretary that they wouldn’t be able to satisfy the contractual demands) that ‘In fact, G4S could run two Olympics, in London and Sydney’.

Buckles volunteered the information that G4S will cover the costs of the police deployment, but it was clear when he was asked about covering the costs of the military deployment, and then about covering the costs of the accommodation for the police and military, that these were questions he had not considered, and although he answered yes to both questions, from his voice and body language it was immediately apparent to everyone in the room that he was making it up as he went along. (A number of the committee members repeatedly asked him to confirm his comments, with Chairman Keith Vaz reminding Buckles that he was giving a public commitment in front of a House of Commons Select Committee).

A number of posters here and elsewhere have commented on the odious and aggressive nature of the questioning from the committee members.  They are MP’s, what did you expect? Their sole interest is whether they can get their sound-bites onto the evening news, particularly if there is a video clip to go with it. Complaining about MP’s being odious in committee hearings is about on the same level as complaining that sharks kill baby seals or that there are mosquitoes in the jungle. As my eleven year-old daughter would say, ‘Duh!’. However, from a higher-level game strategy perspective, knowing how your opponent is going to come at you gives you a serious advantage, as it allows you to prepare a specific game plan based on neutralising your enemy’s strengths and emphasising your own. For whatever reason, Buckles and his advisers did not take advantage of that, and certainly didn’t prepare for it.

One of the functions that the Logue-Sims Manifesto (which has a good ring to it!) can play is to ensure the appropriateness of the language being used in this debate. It is entirely understandable why the government should want to keep the focus on G4S and their failure to deliver as contracted, but the truth is that LOCOG and the Home Office carry equal responsibility for not becoming aware of potential problems many months before they finally came out. It has been the proud claim of all parties involved that this has been the largest and most complex deployment of personnel in Europe since the end of the Second World War. If that is the case, what possible reason could anyone at LOCOG or the Home Office have for taking their eye off the ball with a ‘Don’t worry, it’s all under control’. One of the main selling points that has continuously been pushed at us is that hosting the Olympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for UK plc to demonstrate its world-beating excellence to a global audience. (The strap line of this year’s Security Institute Annual Conference on 20th September is ‘Celebrating British Excellence’).  Given the global coverage of this fiasco, it is hard to believe that any sales director of a UK company will be able to go into any major meeting anywhere in the world for the foreseeable future, and be able to make a case that the client will gain advantage by buying British. The repercussions of this failure will undoubtedly continue long after the Olympics are over, and just as the government would have been at the forefront of claiming responsibility for any success, it cannot be allowed to avoid blame for associated failure.

If that is the view from the strategic level, there is another point on the operational level that seems to me so clear that it is as though it is written in letters of fire thirty feet high, but which I don’t think I have seen anyone el se comment on, which is the fact that even if G4S had delivered the correct amount of people as contracted, they were clearly not fit for purpose to run a security operation. Besides the fact that they had been got through theG4S internal interview and training system on a mass-market sausage-factory approach, and were being given roles for which they had not been adequately prepared – where was the time for venue orientation, where was the briefing on security procedures and protocols, who went through the Venue and Event Security Management handbooks with them (if they in fact exist)? What will happen if (god forbid) there is the need to run a total venue evacuation? Are the people that G4S provide at the very last minute going to have the necessary personal and professional skills, not to mention the venue-specific training, that would enable them to work in a team, take in and deliver complex information, and to respond to a wide range of unpredictable and possibly dangerous situations at the same time as they offer the vision of a professional and trained workforce that can take responsibility for crowd safety in a venue that will undoubtedly consist of many thousands of people who don’t speak English?

Given the scale of the training and licensing operation (and given that the likelihood / inevitability of the failure to deliver the programme as planned is something that has been openly discussed for months by people who have any idea of how the whole project was being managed), where was the SIA? Didn’t LOCOG (the final client) have any interest in the quality of the people that were being taken on, or the quality control measures that were in place?

Nick Buckles constantly made the point that this was a highly complex operation, in fact so often that Keith Vaz had to tell him that we knew that, and he didn’t need to keep saying it. But the complexity of the operation is not an excuse…. The whole reason that G4S are charging a management fee of £54m is because they claim to have the skills to deliver a project of that scale and complexity. It must have been clear from the very first morning of the very first working group that ‘communications’ and maintaining contact with people who had been through the training and licensing programme was going to be an issue, and that someone should be given responsibility for managing that problem from the start, as they should have done with recruitment, training and vetting. These are not problems – these are the reason that G4S were taken on.

Ian Horseman-Sewell made the point that G4S regularly supply 7,000-9,000 people every weekend during the summer, and Brian Sims and Bobby Logue make the point that G4S have successfully run the security at Wimbledon and other high profile events. However – and that is my point – the skills and capabilities required to run those events are not transferable to run a project the size of the Olympics. It is at the level of project management conceptualisation that all this went wrong, and other commentators are absolutely correct when they say that this was more akin to a military exercise than a civilian security operation.

This is not meant as a G4S bashing exercise. In fact, I am largely in agreement with Brian and Bobby’s main point, that this was to a large degree an impossible mission or a poisoned chalice, choose your preferred metaphor. I am also interested to find out to what extent G4S was ‘leaned on’ to take over the additional responsibilities once it became clear that the original guesstimate was clearly wide of the mark. My own feeling is that it was never understood exactly what it takes to develop a project such as this, one that doesn’t relate to any previous or comparable operation, and for which the template does not exist. What is clear is that the people who were tasked with that role would need to have the skills and capabilities to create a project management structure that was sophisticated, adaptable and robust enough to deal with the challenges the London Olympics would undoubtedly bring, and which would ultimately be judged on its ability to deliver its core (and only) objective, namely to recruit and train the teams, and then deploy twenty thousand people over a one week period.

As someone who is currently writing a doctorate thesis on these subjects at the Portsmouth University Professional Doctorate programme, I am aware of the richness of academic and theoretical material there is around creating large-scale multi-agency projects that involve a high level of process innovation. I have a feeling that that insight was not shared by G4S MD’s

The Olympics: calling for an independent security review’

David Rubens has been involved in UK security consultancy for twenty years. He holds an MSc in Security and Risk Management (Leicester University), and is a Visiting Lecturer and Dissertation Supervisor on their Security, Terrorism and Policing MSc programme. He was a Visiting Lecturer on the Strategic Leadership Programme at the Security and Resilience Department, Cranfield University, UK Defence Academy (2009-’10), focusing on terrorism & public policy and the management of large-scale, multi-agency operations.  He has written specialist reports for government agencies in Japan, Russia, Dubai, Nigeria, Liberia and the Caribbean, and is highly-regarded as a speaker on the international security circuit. He is currently on the Professional Doctorate programme at Portsmouth University Department of Criminology & Justice, where his research is concerned with the strategic management of security operations at the extremes of organisational complexity. He can be contacted at david@davidrubens-associates.com / www.davidrubens-associates.com

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