James Moore: Corporate bunglers could be put off by Buckles' barracking

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The Independent Online

Outlook If you paid a decorator up front to paint your house before putting it on the market you'd probably be rather cross if, when the time came for the work to be done, you were told that only half the rooms could be completed because he'd not hired enough people for the job.

Such a situation might lead to you losing a buyer and even if the work were eventually finished late and another firm was hired to do it at your tradesman's expense it wouldn't be much compensation. You'd be quite justified in giving the boss a piece of your mind. If the owner of the company got wind of the problem and had any sense he'd sack said boss and do his best to make things right quickly. Sensible small businesses are well aware of the damage stories like this can do to their long-term health, particularly if they find their way on to websites like Which Local.

When it comes to big business things work rather differently. And sensible people are sometimes hard to find.

The above situation is very similar to what happened on a massive scale with G4S and the Olympic security contract. The thing being put on the market was not a house. It was this country and, fortunately, for the sake of selling its virtues, all wasn't entirely lost because another organisation (the army) were on hand to do the jobs G4S hadn't found the people to do.

G4S yesterday revealed it had lost £50m as a result of the debacle. The company took its management fee but had to foot the costs of dragging a host of weary squaddies back from their leave.

The chief executive Nick Buckles has, it seems, belatedly worked out that presiding over such a mess has raised questions about his future employment, just like the boss of our mythical decorating firm.

We weren't able to give him a piece of our minds, but our elected representatives were on hand to let Mr Buckles know what everyone was thinking about his performance. The barracking he got from MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee was no more than he deserved.

But here's the problem. Far from being outraged at G4S winning a gold medal for incompetence and costing them a fortune, the owners of the business appear more angry about the customer's response.

Neil Woodford, generally hailed as a doyen of the fund-management industry (which says it all really), likened Mr Buckles' treatment by MPs to "medieval persecution".

This rather makes him the Usain Bolt of ludicrous hyperbole. Errant tradesmen in medieval times were put in stocks and had bricks, rotting food and other even more unmentionable items thrown at them. Mr Buckles spent a morning in an air-conditioned room enduring little more than a stern telling off.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining. Mr Woodford has warned that such treatment will make firms reluctant to do business with the UK in future. If the owner of our mythical decorating business told you he wouldn't do business with you because you'd been mean to the man who'd mucked up your decorating you'd probably be delighted.

If Mr Woodford is right it might mean we avoid similar national foul ups in future. Good.