The Changing Standards of Acceptable Behaviour in British Public Life




Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I worked as a local government officer.


In the early 1980’s, before the Spirit of Thatcherism buried it’s taproot of power into the British political system, to be a public servant demanded a higher standard of behaviour. It was codified in a Contract of Employment that set these standards at a national level (colloquially known as ‘The Purple Book’) and these were negotiated by the white-collar trade union, NALGO (long since assimilated into UNISON). Whilst some trade union agreements might be negotiated at branch level, the Purple Book was the local government shop steward’s bible.


During my time as an LGO, I was also a NALGO rep and I learned a great deal about the standards expected of public employees from the personnel staff I dealt with. We wrote and reviewed staff disciplinary procedures together in order to maintain these standards and always, at the heart of any issue, were the mutual concerns that discipline be upheld in the interests of the tax-paying public.


Among these standards, in addition to actually being competent, was the demand for truthfulness and honesty because it was held to be vital to the delivery of public services. Call me old-fashioned but I still believe this is true. If anyone is involved in delivering such services, those who foot the bill for this through national and local taxation should reasonably expect honesty and truthfulness in the public interest. When these standards fail, disciplinary action should be expected to be taken against the perpetrator. At that time, such standards were also applied to elected public officials too.


As a shop steward I learned that, in practice, disciplinary action could often be averted because management had failed to follow the proper procedures designed to ensure that anyone facing allegations of misconduct was dealt with fairly. As one full-time official I knew put it, “A person who is guilty of misconduct should be disciplined or sacked – our task as TU officials is to make sure management do it properly.” It’s a basic rule-of-thumb I’ve never found reason to disagree with but somewhere along the line, someone has. Whether this alteration is in the public interest really is for the public to decide.


There is a reason I raise this issue now. In the last few days, the UK Prime Minister has reshuffled his Cabinet. One of the survivors of these changes has been the Home Secretary, Theresa May. This becomes interesting because, at age 56 (on 1.10.12), she outlasts slightly younger female colleagues who have, allegedly, been sacked for being “too old”. In addition, Mrs May has a criminal conviction as a direct result of her work as Home Secretary. Under the kind of employment contract I was subject to, this would have been regarded as a potentially sackable offence, yet the lady remains firmly in office, so something has changed and it might not be for the better.


Yesterday, I took a closer look at Mrs. May and her performance as Home Secretary during the London Olympics Security debacle – I might have called it a ‘scandal’ were it not for the fact that the issue seems to have disappeared from public view. I’m going to post my findings in full because, as a retired shop steward of the old school, I still adhere to the requirement for proper evidence.  As the reader, you are invited to make up your own mind on whether she has a case to answer. Bear in mind that, in the employment law I was taught, a decision to dismiss does not have to meet the standard of ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ (the measure for criminal law) but can be determined on the balance of probability. My evidence is taken from media reports at the time.


The evidence begins here:



London 2012 Olympics: G4S blame £283 million security costs on Government and Locog | The Telegraph

The private security provider to the London Olympics has defended its £284m contract and blamed the tripling of security costs on the Government and Games organisers.



Time might run out for Olympic security recruitment | Financial Times

Mark Hamilton, the managing director of G4S’ security personnel, fears that time may run out for Olympic security recruitment as 10,300 of the necessary 13,300 guards are still awaiting training.

Unchecked – behind paywall:


The story breaks here:



London 2012: concern mounts over potential shortage of security guards | Sport | The Guardian

The home secretary, Theresa May, has stepped in amid growing concern that additional military personnel may be needed to make up the shortfall. It is understood May called senior G4S executives on Friday after the firm failed to supply enough staff for patrols last week at venues in the Olympic park in east London.



Military drafted in after G4S Olympic staffing failure | Channel 4 News

‘Locog originally contracted G4S to provide 2,000 security guards out of the 10,000 required. But when Locog re-estimated the total number needed to 23,700, G4S agreed in December to supply 10,000 personnel total out of 23,700. The new contract is worth an estimated £284m.

Channel 4 News understands that G4S are subject to a penalty fine per venue, per day if they ultimately fail to meet the agreed staffing levels and that senior managers have been demoted as a result.’



Olympic security: army reinforcements called in to fill G4S shortfall | Sport | The Guardian

The home secretary, Theresa May, has been pressing G4S to provide assurances over its commitments, but patience in Whitehall ran out last weekend and talks began over whether the Ministry of Defence could fill the gap…

The Home Office permanent secretary, Dame Helen Ghosh, has admitted that Locog’s original “best estimate” of 10,000 security staff within venues had been a “finger in the air” exercise….


May battles for trust as army steps in –

Amid fiery questioning from fellow MPs Theresa May denied charges from the opposition that she was presiding over a security “shambles”, and admitted that the G4S personnel shortfall had only “crystallised” 24 hours earlier, despite close Home Office supervision of the £284m contract….

Ms May reassured MPs that all the costs would be met from the £553m budget for venue security, and that financial penalties would be imposed on G4S for failing to meet its obligations…


BBC News – Olympics security not compromised, Theresa May says

Theresa May said it was discovered only on Wednesday – 16 days before the Games begin – that contractor G4S did not have enough trained security staff…


Theresa May grilled over G4S Olympics shambles – YouTube


Other links:



EXCLUSIVE: Theresa May Wrong about G4S Olympics Security Farce, Says Soldier – IBTimes UK

Theresa May’s claim that the government knew that additional British Army soldiers were needed for Olympics security only on the day before she made the announcement has been branded inconceivable by a soldier drafted in at the last minute to work at the games….

A member of an air assault infantry battalion, who has served in Afghanistan, the source told IBTimes UK that his regiment was informed that they would be needed for the games on 9 July – two days before May claimed she knew.


They left Olympics high and dry – but G4S will not pay penalty – UK Politics – UK – The Independent

“But a senior Government source told The Independent that the contract with G4S did not include a penalty clause.

The revelation appears to contradict a statement by the Home Secretary Theresa May in the House of Commons. She told MPs that while the contract was between G4S and the Games organisers Locog, she understood that there were “penalties within that contract”.

A source said that in fact it was a pro-rata agreement where G4S were paid for each extra security guard they supplied – and not penalised if they did not make the overall target. “The person who negotiated the contract should be shot,” the source said.”—but-g4s-will-not-pay-penalty-7939668.html



Olympic security not compromised by G4S shortfall, says Lord Coe | UK news |

“He (Hunt) said the government had “of course been monitoring the situation with G4S, and their management told us right up until last week that everything was on track. But we’ve had that contingency plan for many months and we are just very lucky to have fantastic armed services who can come when we need them and they will do a brilliant job.”

Home Office ministers were warned about security issues surrounding the Games 10 months ago. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary raised its concerns in a confidential report in September 2011 after a number of inspections to test that the security plans of Locog, the Games organising committee, were on track.

The Home Office said HMIC had not carried out an investigation into G4S, and the issues flagged by HMIC had all been dealt with by February.”


Exclusive: May ‘was told 10 months ago of G4S failings’ – UK Politics – UK – The Independent

“A confidential report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary was presented to Home Office ministers in September 2011, which should have raised alarm bells about the readiness of G4S.

The report by the police watchdog into Olympics security preparedness – which has never been published – raised serious issues over G4S last year, The Independent on Sunday understands. It is not known whether the Home Secretary personally saw the report or whether it only went across the desk of James Brokenshire, her junior minister.”



G4S assured us they would ‘overshoot’ Olympic staffing, says Theresa May | Business |

“She (May) also strongly denied weekend press reports that ministers knew long before last Wednesday that there would be not be enough private security staff to guard the 100 Olympic venues around Britain. MPs repeatedly raised with her reports that the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and his policing deputy, Stephen Greenhalgh, had said that everybody involved had known about the problem “ages ago”.

She said of reports that G4S had warned the crime and security minister, James Brokenshire, at repeated meetings: “In fact, G4S repeatedly assured us that they would overshoot their targets,” she said.

May also rejected claims that ministers must have known about the shortfall because troops had been put on standby in April.”


Video: Theresa May: G4S failed in its Olympics obligation – Telegraph


BBC News – London 2012: May defends Games security plans

“But Labour’s Yvette Cooper said Mrs May should have known about the problem.

“Even G4S say they have been discussing the detailed shortfall for eight or nine days, yet last Monday the home secretary told the House she was confident our partners will deliver.

“It is incomprehensible that monitoring was that poor that no one told her until Wednesday,” she said.

“How on earth could the minister responsible for delivering Olympic security be the only person who didn’t know?”

Ms Cooper also told MPs Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson had admitted the problems were known about “ages ago”, and his deputy Stephen Greenhalgh had claimed security concerns had been raised “repeatedly”…”

“Mrs May told the Commons last week that there were penalties written into the G4S contract but did not give details.

Late on Friday, G4S said it faced a £35m-£50m loss on the £284m contract after failing to recruit enough security guards for the Olympics.”


BBC News – Locog missed G4S’s corner-cutting says insider

“An insider from the committee organising the Olympics (Locog) has told Newsnight that they failed to deal with the problems at G4S despite warnings over the last 18 months.

The individual, who does not want to be named, said: “G4S have been appalling.”

He claims those in charge of Locog’s security were “amateurish” and it was a mistake using one company to supply staff.

Newsnight put these allegations to Locog and they have not responded.

The insider says Locog’s event services division used a number of contractors to supply thousands of stewards and that has worked well but the security division put all its eggs in one basket.

“It was the wrong strategy, to use only one company.”

He also says that there was inadequate scrutiny.

“They couldn’t spot when contractors were cutting corners.”

The insider who has worked in security for many years asserts that “at the top level” the management of security at Locog was “thoroughly amateurish and incompetent”.

Watch the full report on Newsnight on Monday 16 July 2012 at 2230 BST on BBC Two. Or afterwards on BBC iPlayer and the Newsnight website.”



Nick Buckles: G4S reputation is in tatters after Olympics shambles |

“Mr Buckles explained how he had told organiser Locog on July 3 that his company experienced a shortfall over the weekend.

It was monitored daily but it was not until an Olympics Security Board meeting on July 11 that G4S said it was not going to meet its contract obligations…”

” ‘G4S only told the government that they would be unable to meet their contractual arrangements last Wednesday and we took immediate action,’ Ms May said.”

“However, further developments have suggested problems with the security contingent were first noted almost a year ago by senior workers closer to the planning.”


(Video) Theresa May grilled over G4S Olympics shambles | dotSUB


Home Sec Denies Damning HMIC Report On G4S | UK Police News – Police Oracle



 Home Secretary Theresa May accused of giving ‘selective account’ of G4S Olympics chaos

The revelations call into question claims made by the Conservative Minister who told the Commons the “absolute gap in numbers” was not known until July 11.

It has now emerged that the Home Secretary was aware of problems in security recruitment as early as June 27th.  The details of when she knew of the problems were contained in a letter sent by Mrs May to the Commons Select Committee which has been set up to look into the shambles.

Mrs May wrote: “On June 27 G4S and Locog attended an Olympics Security Board meeting at the Home Office and said they were experiencing scheduling problems.

“They warned of a possible temporary shortfall in G4S deployed number from July 1.

“G4S were unable to specify the size of the shortfall and could say only that it would be ‘significantly less than 1,000’.

“G4S stated that the shortfall was mainly due to the failure to take account of the fact that large parts of their workforce would be unable to begin work before July 27.”

Mrs May went on: “Locog and G4S were pressed to clarify the shortfall and factors which had created it urgently.

“The meeting considered a possible short-term and temporary call on the military contingency force (MCF) which had been created for Olympics purposes.”

Mrs May admitted that permission to put “a small part of the MCF” on 24 hours notice was sought as early as June 28, with the force being mobilised “several days later”.

“But at this stage, of course, G4S were still confident that they would deliver the required numbers,” Mrs May said.

“However, as we now know, this is no longer the case.

“On July 11 G4S told the Olympic Security Board for the first time that they were no longer confident of reaching their workforce targets.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The Home Secretary was asked repeatedly when she and the Home Office were warned about problems at G4S, and she repeatedly gave everyone the impression they had only known since July 11.

“Why has Theresa May waited until now to admit the Home Office in fact were warned two weeks earlier? She needs to explain urgently how she justifies having given Parliament and the public such a selective account, and why the Home Office were so slow to respond.”

The admission will increase the pressure on the under fire cabinet minister who has faced criticism after troops and police from across the UK had to be mobilised in order to plug the security gaps left after security firm G4S admitted they could not provide the number of personnel required.”


BBC News – Home Office warned over G4S staffing


Theresa May warned G4S wouldn’t have enough security guards for Games two weeks before she initially claimed | Mail Online



Theresa May gave ‘selective account’ to MPs over supply of G4S guards – Politics – News – Evening Standard

G4S ‘said last month it could get guards,’ Theresa May reveals – Paralympic News – Olympics – Evening Standard


G4S may lose police support jobs after Olympic fiasco | Business |



and then something interesting happens…

G4S dismissed Olympic Games ‘teething problems’ – Home News – UK – The Independent



It is here that my own trail of evidence comes to an end.


It is clear that Prime Minister David Cameron believes there is no case to answer. Despite the above; despite Mrs May’s criminal conviction for contempt of court; and despite being ‘too old’, she remains firmly in post as Home Secretary. Nevertheless, in my old-fashioned mind, Theresa May appears to have a case to answer when it comes to standards of behaviour in public life.


What interests me the most is that no-one seems to be calling her to account. For the public – who are paying the bill – this seems very wrong to me but then I am of the old-school who believe there should be higher standards of discipline applied to those in public life. You, the reader, are free to make up your own mind.


As this piece was opened with the magical tool of the story-teller, so I will close it with the same discipline:


“This story was told to someone who told it to a hundred people. Each one told it to a hundred more and they, in turn, passed it on to another hundred. One of those told this story to me and you are one of the hundred I am telling it to.”






One response »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s