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G4S will rightly feel the pain of its Olympic-sized failure. So why won’t the Public & Commercial Services union?

    Lewis Brown, Digital Commuications Manager at the Centre for Policy Studies, blogs on how the PCS union will escape the wrath felt by g4s in their Olympic debacle. 

    Like Francis Maude, every day on the way to work I pass through Clapham Junction. And, like Francis Maude, every day I silently curse the huge PCS banners that hang on their monolithic building overlooking Britain’s busiest railway station. Advertising their opposition to spending cuts, to pension changes, the catchy slogan ‘68 is too late’, the banners are actually brilliant as well as annoying. But after the initial annoyance at the resurrected union philosophies that brought Britain to its knees several times over the last century, a calm realisation takes over my sleep-deprived morning self – the banners are a reminder that however much David Cameron extols the virtues of “we’re all in this together”, in fact they seem to be out for themselves. The Unions – mirroring the criticism they make of faceless bankers– are seeking one end game: to exploit any opportunity to maximise their gain (a tactic also known as “protecting the interests of our members”).

    On Newsnight, the PCS’ Paul O’Connor revealed that planning had been in place for 18 months around these issues – which begs the question why this particular date had to be chosen unless it is to cause major disruption. Mark Serwotka, the PCS General Secretary, has disingenuously claimed that, as the Home Office/Border Agency strike is 24 hours before the Olympics, it will therefore do no damage; of course nobody arrives in a country before a sporting event – they turn up hours before so that they can risk missing it. Part of the fun I guess.  

    The strikes will rightly be condemned as an unnecessary and malignant attack on the London 2012 Olympics, an event seven years in the planning. Compare this with that other well-publicised giant pimple on the face of Olympic-beauty, the G4S security fiasco.

    G4S - a private company that has achieved massive success internationally and built a remarkable reputation for itself, so much so that it even supplies security systems to the Pentagon – has categorically failed in its contractual obligations to provide enough security staff to ensure a safe Olympic games.

    The company will face censure in a number of ways. Firstly, its globally excellent reputation has taken a massive hit. G4S will pay the monetary cost by losing the vast majority of its £57m management fee. Share prices have crumbled as you can see below (albeit with a recent minor pick-up as bargain hunters looked to mop up).

     

    G4S will also lose future business because of this failure – already they have been deemed too risky to fulfil police outsourcing contracts in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire & Cambridgeshire and Surrey has indefinitely shelved plans for using the firm for victim support services. While politicians will no doubt pile over each other to investigate the company, the market is already delivering a violent retributory blow to the company. It will take years for G4S to shake off the effects of this reputation crisis, if they manage it at all.

    The Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner has pointed out in a brilliant article that this unacceptable failure should not be grasped as an opportunity to roll back the clock to a system of big-state omnipotence. The debacle over the PCS strikes is ample evidence as to why. What censure will those perpetrating this purposeful attack on the Games be dealt? Little or none. Instead they will return from the picket lines to work, content in the knowledge that as unionised public sector workers they are entitled to disrupt the Olympics, or Christmas, or any other event, and not face any further consequences.

    Despite the appearance often given by Keith Vaz on the Home Affairs Committee, politicians do not know how to deliver services better, and neither do their civil servants. Philip Booth captures this for Spectator Coffee House when he writes “When government services provided by in-house teams fail, non-delivery is brushed under the carpet. Poorly performing schools linger forever; disorderly prisons fester; job centres do not get people back into work; and so on. When the G4S contract was granted cash was handed over; G4S failed to deliver on the contract; they paid up; and their share price tumbled. Everything was above board and transparent.”

    As this country lurches ever more forward into banker-bashing, profit-hating and enterprise-damning, it’s important to remember that privatisation and, when this is not possible, outsourcing deliver specialist knowledge that improves services and punishes mistakes that continue to this day in state-financed institutions. Britain cannot afford to look backwards to these state solutions or to lose battles with militant leaders of trade unions.     

     

    Lewis joined the Centre for Policy Studies in April 2011 with responsibility for social media and digital engagement.

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