Simon Hoggart July 19, 2012
It's hard to believe GS4 chief Nick Buckles is still holding his job.
IT WAS horrible, painful, almost bestial. I have never seen anyone get such a monstering at a British parliamentary select committee. If Nick Buckles weren't a multimillionaire who got rich by paying peanuts to people who can't get any other work, you might begin to feel sorry for him.
Almost. As it is, we found it hard to believe not only that he is still in his job as chief executive of G4S, the private company contracted to provide security for the London Olympics, but that he was ever appointed in the first place. He came across as someone who couldn't organise a tea party at Twinings, or a pig-out in a pie shop. If I saw him searching bags and patting down pockets outside the beach volleyball venue, I'd run a medal-winning mile to reach safety.
He knew nothing. The fact that his company could not deliver what it promised had all come as a terrible surprise, mere years after the contract had been signed. This is how miraculously incompetent he seemed to be: ''My first priority is to make sure that my company comes out with its reputation intact,'' he said in the first few minutes.
Reputation intact? What distant planet does he come from? Its reputation has been shredded across the front pages of the world. They can restore shattered Ming vases these days. But the reputation of G4S is in tiny, irreparable shards, a global joke, a source of multinational mirth.
It didn't help that Buckles wears a silly mullet hairdo and has a tan from a recent holiday, somewhere hot, that contrasted with the pallor of most British members of parliament.
But you've never heard of anyone being brown-faced with shame. And he had no more contrition than, say, the recently resigned Barclays chief Bob Diamond.
Buckles hadn't known. He hadn't even bothered to find out before coming to the select committee. And he plans to keep the £57 million (A$87 million) management fee, on the grounds that G4S will be delivering some of the promised security guards! This is like a plumber bursting a pipe, flooding your house, then demanding his call-out fee because he'd already put a lot of work in.
Here are just some of the words MPs used to describe him and the continuing disaster: ''fiasco'', ''shambles'', ''humiliating'', ''inexcusable'', ''astonishing'', ''amazing'', ''unacceptable'', ''amateurish''. And that was just throat-clearing.
Nicola Blackwood told the wretched Buckles: ''Your performance today will lead quite a lot of people to despair.'' Before the meeting she had had little confidence in G4S. ''Now we don't have any at all.''
When the House of Commons home affairs committee find a victim, they grab him like a pride of lions and chew off as much as they can. When Buckles said that he was ''disappointed'', committee chairman Keith Vaz, the Mighty Vaz of Vaz, said that he was disappointed when his football team didn't win. ''Isn't there a better word?'' he asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm like juice from a very sour lemon.
Buckles might not have been contrite but he knew how to do rueful. Labour MP David Winnick told him his company's reputation was ''in tatters''.
''At this moment I would have to agree,'' he admitted.
He revealed that he hadn't known about the crisis until July 3 - less than four weeks before the Games begin. And three days later his sidekick, the majestically monikered Ian Horseman-Sewell, was boasting they could not only cover the Olympics here, but another one simultaneously in Australia. Wired to the moon, as the Irish say.
Disaster followed disaster. Too few G4S staff turned up at a cycling event in Surrey on Tuesday. When would Buckles know how few people would show? At 9 o'clock, he said. That's 9pm, after the understaffed event.
Horseman-Sewell chipped in. There was a difference between people not showing up having been accepted, he said, and a shortfall. We were in the realm of the higher metaphysics. I understood this to mean there was a difference between the no-shows who exist in the form of real human beings, though absent, and shortfall, who don't exist at all.
MPs came up with a stream of horror stories, of constituents who had been accepted, vetted and had then heard nothing at all. Those who had paid for training, then not received contracts. A woman who had spent 84 minutes on the hotline to find out if her son was required, and no one could tell her.
By this time Buckles was looking like a stunned fish - floppy mullet front and back. He was asked if G4S would pay for the accommodation for the police who would need to be drafted in. Long pause. ''Er, yes,'' he finally said, making Vaz believe he was making policy on the hoof. Indeed, if the committee had demanded a suite at the Ritz for every copper, Buckles would probably have promised it. With no charge for the minibar.
After nearly two hours the horror was over. With a hardly disguised demand from Vaz for his resignation fresh in his ears, Buckles somehow dragged himself away.
Simon Hoggart is a Guardian writer.