Monday, 23 July 2012

G4S and Olympic joy

This is for all those who said that Britain should not have bid for the Olympics because it was a waste of money, and wouldn't unite the nation. You were wrong on at least the last of these points.  As the Olympics have got  nearer the country has come together with an ever increasing sense of hope, expectation and anticipation, and we have been rewarded. The only problem, of course, is that what we've  been hoping, expecting and anticipating is not Olympic glory, but something going badly wrong.

We thought our dreams were about to come true on July 7 when a key bit of the M4 that would transport athletes from Heathrow to the games was closed for emergency repairs. In spite of the official declaration that it would re-open in five days, the newspapers (or at least two of them) fuelled the nation's desire for catastrophe by speculating that the repair work could take all summer. We rejoiced with a sense of pessimism fulfilled, and then the road was repaired and re-opened in the stated time, and we were all disappointed again.

We needed something to lift our spirits again, and thankfully it arrived in the shape of G4S who have managed to take the role of both circus clown and pantomime villain, by not only satisfying our desire and expectation of Olympic catastrophe, but also by providing us with the opportunity to collectively indulge in another national pasttime - moral indignation. Thanks to G4S we can now get up in arms about the outsourcing of jobs to private companies, and also about the culture of rewards for failure that means those at the top never suffer for the misery they cause to others with their own incompetence.

It's great how it unfolded, with them first having to get the army to help because they hadn't got enough security staff, then having to draft the police in as well, because the ones they had got hadn't been told when are where to turn up, and then, as if that were not already enough to satisfy us, we had their chief executive telling a select committee that in spite of providing less than half the security guards they were meant to, and in spite of the cost and inconvenience they were generating for the armed forces and the police, they were still going to take the £57million pounds they were due for providing security. Now we had corporate greed on top of incompetence. The Olympic party could begin.  

We should never have doubted that G4S could manage to achieve such a dazzling level of disaster and sideshow of course. This is the organisation that, as Group 4 Security, managed to run a prison escort contract that in saw the wrong prisoners go to the wrong courts at the wrong times, and a fair few other prisoners escaping justice by escaping from their vans in the early days of its operation, so they have form on these things. Maybe it's a shame their Olympics contract doesn't also involve getting athletes to venues. If it did we would soon be able to spend hours marvelling at how Bradley Wiggins ended up playing tennis at Wimbledon, and how tennis players ended up competing in the  beach volleyball. Give them a contract to transport fans to events and we might even see a full house at a women's football game.

Of course, as an example of why public services really shouldn't be contracted out, the failure of G4S brings the biggest smiles to the faces of dyed in the wool Socialists. They also have the outsourcing of  court interpreter services that has allegedly resulted in cancelled court hearings and one court having to use google translate for a defendant (what odds an appeal in that case?) to cheer about, not forgetting the endless 'I told you so' moments that interest rate fixing, money laundering and the alleged facilitating of illegal arm sales, provide when talking about the deregulated banking system. This means that right wing Conservatives might be feeling left out of the party at the moment, but not to worry - they now  have the equally predictable strikes by rail companies and the UK Border Agency and can now come out with the 'holding the country to ransom' 'typical' and 'the nation won't stand for it' platitudes that provide them with their moment of value added indignation from Olympic problems. The Olympics are truly the gift that keeps on giving.

And so, to return to where I started, for all those who said Britain should never have bid for the olympics, all that remains to be said is shame on you. The games have provided us with opportunities to come together in having our prejudices and fears confirmed. That's the sort of enjoyment we wouldn't have got if France had been chosen as hosts on that fateful day in 2005, and you surely can't begrudge the country that, can you?