Could the G4S security contract have worked?

Last week Win that Bid published a blog quoting a director from G4S as he proclaimed the rise of police privatisation. I wasn’t entirely positive about the prospect… and even as it went live on the site G4S became embroiled in a massive contract scandal reported across the world, destroying their share price.

There has been lots of press coverage about the company’s failures, but what about the contract itself? Could they have succeeded in meeting it at all?

There were warning signs last September, when the firm reported that it would not be able to recruit more than guards than it was originally contracted for without a great deal of prior warning. The Home Office then took four months to confirm what it actually needed (far more than the contract called for, naturally). All security staff have to be centrally vetted and licensed through the Security Industry Authority (SIA) before they can be deployed, drastically slowing down their recruitment process. There seems to have been an awful lack of clarity about the pricing structure of the tender contract, which allowed the Olympic Sponsors to add more and more requirements to the contract. G4S simply couldn’t provide the resources asked for, and didn’t communicate that very well.

This raises a second issue with the contract: there was no provision for outsourcing. The authorities wanted to hand the entire £200 million contract to a single security company. This created problems for G4S and seems like a wasted opportunity; Win that Bid has worked with plenty of qualified security companies in London. Many of them were very interested in pursuing Olympic security contracts and were disappointed to find that there were no opportunities for them do so, either because of the sheer scale of the contract or because they were vulnerable to changes in the tender contract. The tender contract isolated G4S; before taking the contract they should have considered their contingency plans in the event the requirements changed, as they usually do in contracts this large and politicised.

Based on these facts, G4S certainly appears to have a strong case to complain about the government’s conduct in this contract. It hasn’t taken that opportunity. Possibly, it simply doesn’t want to jeopardise the security contracts it already has with the government. The political climate and the scale of the bid certainly left G4S in a very poor negotiating position; something that any company should consider before bidding for a tender.

A company trying to win any bid, let alone a security contract, should make sure they plan for contingencies. G4S weren’t prepared for big changes in the contract, and have paid for it.

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