Mark Leftly: It gets knocked down but G4S keeps getting up again
Westminster Outlook I should have known that I’d get little change out of a Labour shadow minister who, leaning against the bar after a long day at the party’s annual conference this week, ordered a Diet Coke rather than a sharpener.
Nearly every MP, including shadow Cabinet members, I had spoken to that day were angry, or at least perplexed, that Labour was still using G4S to provide security. From not finding enough guards to fulfil its contractual obligations at the London 2012 Olympic Games, to providing security systems for Israeli jails that hold Palestinians, G4S’s work record means it should not be protecting Labour’s annual conference, they argued. “Bizarre” and “probably the result of some bloody daft lawyerly deal” were among the more placid asides.
Yet this shadow minister pointed out that G4S has heavy union membership through the GMB. This, then, is an employer that respects workers in a sector where union recognition is rare.
As the conference progressed, I increasingly found a sharp divide in opinion over the scandal-scarred company that has provided security to the conference for 15 years. A spokeswoman says it is “proud” of the work it does for Labour, and the guards certainly seemed to keep their cool when goaded by a handful of angry protesters.
G4S is slowly rebuilding its reputation, with a chief executive, Ashley Almanza, now over a year in the post and spinners at Finsbury looking after its PR. But when the hits come, they are still potentially devastating, such as allegations over human rights violations at an asylum-seeker facility in Papua New Guinea – made in a complaint this week to the OECD.
For me, G4S is an example of a monstrously large company – more than 630,000 employees worldwide – that can never be controlled by management and where communication can never be effective. An empire rather than a company. Checks and balances in such a sensitive area as security are simply not possible.
But still G4S hangs on in there, doggedly retaining a contract with a political party that contains some of the company’s greatest critics. The resilience is mightily impressive, even if its recent record is not.
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