The chief executive of G4S has admitted that the company “underestimated” the job of supplying more than 10,000 guards for the Olympic Games.
In a move likely to exacerbate already considerable public anger towards G4S, Nick Buckles, the security company boss, admitted that he did not know "categorically" whether all the security staff could speak fluent English.
Buckles: 'We accept that we underestimated the task of supplying staff for the Olympics'
Buckles, who has presided over the firm’s handling of the multi-million pound Olympic contract, spoke publically for the first time on Saturday, and admitted that the company was facing a loss of up to £50m for failing to meet its contractual obligations.
He said he was “very sorry” that the government had been forced to draft in 3,500 men and women from the armed services to cover the shortfall in guards his company had promised to provide.
"We accept that we underestimated the task of supplying staff for the Olympics. We deeply regret that," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
However, despite the fiasco, Buckles told Sky News on Saturday that he would not resign from his £1.2m-a-year job.
G4S was initially contracted to provide 2,000 staff for £86m but, following a review of security requirements last year, that figure was increased to 10,400 personnel, while the value of the contract more than trebled.
However on Wednesday, with just over two weeks to go until the opening ceremony, it emerged the firm was not going to make the numbers and additional troops would be required.
More than 3,000 members of the armed services have been drafted in for Olympic security
Despite having signed the initial contract in 2010, Buckles said that he had only realised "eight or nine days ago" that there would be a shortfall.
"We are recruiting a large number of people, they are all working through a process of interview, two or three different degrees of training, licensing, accreditation," he said.
"Our review process was around the number of people applying for interviews, we had 100,000 of those, the number of people interviewed which was 50,000.
"So basically you work through that process of numbers and as they were getting ready for deployment over a period of time, it's only when you get closer and closer to the Games that you realise that the number isn't as high as you expect."
Worryingly for the government, which has been heavily criticised for not scrutinising the fulfilment of the contract, G4S maintain that they did keep the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOCOG) informed of their progress in recruiting the guards.
However, speaking on Sky News, Theresa May said the problem was that “G4S led everyone to believe they could fulfil the additional requirement, but events of this week show that they can’t."
Its shares fell 3% on top of similar falls on Thursday, meaning more than £200m has been wiped off its value since the staffing problems emerged.
Buckles is due to speak before a Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
The chairman of the Committee, Keith Vaz, said the problems that had arisen raised questions as to whether the staff G4S had managed to recruit were up to the job.
"We do need to examine what is the workforce that is in place at the moment. Have they been properly trained? Are they going to be able to communicate with those that arrive at the Games and are they qualified to do what they are supposed to do?" he told BBC News
"I hope this is an opportunity for Mr Buckles on Tuesday to come out with the facts, to be very clear, to be very open, to be very transparent with Parliament so that we can get to the bottom of what has happened."
He said the difficulties could have implications for the firm's long-term relationship with the public sector.
"This is not a dodgy builders' firm. This is the biggest security firm in the world. They have hundreds of millions of pounds of contracts to deal with policing, prisons, detention centres, which the Home Office has given them. The worry for me is the long term," he said.
But Vaz stopped short of calling for Buckles to resign. Asked if he should consider his position in light of the fiasco, Vaz said: "I think we need to wait and see what he says on Tuesday."
Buckles's name trended on Twitter for much of Saturday, with users of the social networking site airing strong feelings on the Olympic security fiasco.
Some voiced anger, some made jokes and others spoke in support of the beleaguered chief executive of the FTSE 100 company.
Comedian and actress Rebecca Front, who starred in cult political satire The Thick Of It, wrote: "Poor G4S. How could they have known the Olympics would sneak up on them so unexpectedly?"
Private Eye satirist Tom Jamieson tweeted: "Head of G4S security firm is called Nick Buckles!? Who's his 2nd in command, Rob Tourists?"
David Beauvais, who tweets via @cosmiclandmine, wrote: "#G4S Nick Buckles, admits Olympic security staff don't speak English but they're cheap. Wtf - Currently = 2.75 million English unemployed."
John Wade, who tweets from @johnwadeovc, wrote: "I want to know why the CEO of a PLC doesn't get informed about important deliverables, in time to act. Step forward Nick Buckles of #G4S"
A user who tweets from the account @LizSurly wrote: "Just how much forward planning does G4S do if, as Nick Buckles states, 'they only discovered they'd be short NINE days ago'? Jeez!!"
But an anonymous tweet from the account of Worcester-based defence advisory firm Defence Partners, @defencepartner, supported Mr Buckles.
"All very well being upset with Nick Buckles, but what on earth were his non execs and chairman doing? Preemption better than cure #G4S," it said.
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