The report on unpaid stewards ‘sleeping under London Bridge’ sensationalises what was just an unfortunate logistics problem writes Molly Prince, CEO of Close Security U.K.
You report that “long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under London Bridge” (Unemployed bussed in to steward river pageant, 5 June).
Before publication I sent your reporter a full and detailed response giving the facts I had at the time. But most of this was not reflected in the article, which sensationalised what was essentially an unfortunate logistics planning problem that resulted in a group of volunteers arriving at the muster point just less than two hours early.
You state that “two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, said they had to camp under London Bridge”. In fact, nobody was sent to camp under a bridge overnight. The volunteer group arrived early, at 3am, and were de-bussed by the coach company who had estimated a 5am time of arrival. Unfortunately my staff member did not deal with this in the way I would have hoped; but I am not in the business of scapegoating anyone, and I accept responsibility for decisions made and have expressed my sincere apologies to those concerned.
Those two complainants represented less than 1% of the 227 staff we supplied to the event. The two also claimed they had “no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain”. In fact, no one worked 14-hour shifts, nor were they without toilet facilities for so long. We had over 20 volunteers and I have had several messages passed on by my operations director from other individuals in that group expressing disgust at the article and their thanks for the opportunity, training and ongoing support they have received from my staff over the past few months. They have further gone on to offer personal good wishes and thanks for the fact that our company has given them the chance to prove themselves.
Not one person was forced to go, or told that the event was a selection process. These potential employees have been trained over a period of several months, and my company has paid for Security Industry Authority licences and equipment in readiness for the Olympics work we recruited them for. There was no intention to exploit anyone or indeed supply cheap labour; our time in training and people investment shone through on the day with compliments from officials at how well turned out and efficient our team was. The event passed without incident in the area we were responsible for.
All staff were supplied with a hot breakfast, a packed lunch and a hot evening meal, and dry, heated communal accommodation. Although the weather prevented us erecting group accommodation, the complainants, I believe, insisted on trying to erect personal tents against the advice of our operations director. Measures have been put in place to ensure that better planning will be in place for the Olympics and, as was always the case, only fully employed staff will be deployed for the duration of the events.
This week you reported that “the former deputy prime minister has written to the home secretary” about this (Prescott seeks inquiry into use of unpaid jobseeker stewards, 6 June). We welcome John Prescott’s call for what I hope would be an unbiased investigation. I run my business with integrity.
I am saddened by the attempt by ill-intentioned and misinformed individuals to ruin a thriving business, employing hundreds of staff, but I am reassured this attempt will ultimately fail as we have nothing to hide.