The underbelly of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations has been revealed by the Guardian:
“A group of 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 before working on the river pageant.
Up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth as part of the government’s Work Programme.
Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, said they had to camp under London Bridge the night before the pageant. They told the Guardian they had to change into security gear in public, 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 on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.
One young worker said she was on duty between London Bridge and Tower Bridge during the £12m river spectacle of a 1,000-boat flotilla and members of the Royal family sail by . She said that the security firm Close Protection UK, which won a stewarding contract for the jubilee events, gave her a plastic see-through poncho and a high-visibility jacket for protection against the rain.
Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday.
The firm said it had spent considerable resources on training and equipment that stewards could keep and that the experience was voluntary and did not affect jobseekers keeping their benefits.
The woman said that people were picked up at Bristol at 11pm on Saturday and arrived in London at 3am on Sunday. “We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them,” she said. “We followed them under London Bridge and that’s where they told us to camp out for the night … It was raining and freezing.” “
“Some volunteers from the government’s work programme scheme had to spend the night under London Bridge and had no access to toilets, the Guardian said.
Ex-deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said the reports were “unbelievable”.
The firm in charge of stewarding has apologised to those involved.
Close Protection UK said staff arriving from outside London on Sunday morning – ahead of the pageant on the Thames – should not have been dropped in the capital at 0300 BST with nowhere to stay.
The company, one of those awarded a stewarding contract for the Diamond Jubilee events, said this was a misunderstanding on the part of the coach driver who was two hours ahead of schedule.
The Guardian reported that volunteers bussed in from Bristol, Plymouth and Bath had to spend part of the night under London Bridge, one telling the newspaper that conditions were “freezing” and another saying it was impossible to pitch a tent due to the concrete surface. “
Update 3: John Prescott’s letter to the Home Secretary:
“Rt Hon Theresa May MP,
2 Marsham Street
June 5 2012
Dear Home Secretary,
I’m writing to you because I am alarmed by the revelations in today’s Guardian newspaper about the private security firm Close Protection UK (CPUK) – (‘Unemployed bussed in to steward river pageant’ – Guardian, June 5 2012)
If the allegations are true, it is totally unacceptable that young unemployed people were bussed in to London from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth and forced to sleep out in the cold overnight before stewarding a major event with no payment.
I am deeply concerned that a private security firm is not only providing policing on the cheap but failing to show a duty of care to its staff and threatening to withdraw an opportunity to work at the Olympics as a means to coerce them to work unpaid.
It also raises very serious questions about the suitability of using private security contractors to do frontline policing instead of trained police officers.
I call on you to immediately investigate this matter and alert the Security Industry Authority to see if CPUK has breached its SIA Approved Contractor Status.
I believe that this could be a breach of 2.3.1(f) of the SIA Approved Contractor Status Terms and Conditions of Approval, which states a contractor can have approved status removed if it is “found no longer to meet the fit and proper person criteria applied by the SIA.”
I also ask you and the Secretary of State for DCMS to urgently review CPUK’s contract to provide security during the Olympics.
It would be completely inappropriate for a company that appears to have such a blatant disregard for the care of its workers to be policing such a prestigious event.
Update 4: The Indy reports it.
Update 5: This is Bath’s take.
Update 6: The issue is filtering out into the public domain, The Staggers: Workfare casts a shadow over the Jubilee, The Metro’s John Prescott urges inquiry over ‘unpaid Diamond Jubilee stewards’ and the Gawker’s Unpaid Diamond Jubilee Stewards Were Forced to Sleep Under London Bridge.
Update 7: The company behind all of this, Tomorrow’s People, has form:
“The Charity Commission has censured employment charity Tomorrow’s People over its decision to allow its chief executive, Debbie Scott, to appear in the Conservative Party election manifesto.
Scott, who accepted an offer last year to become a Conservative peer, appeared in a full-page picture on page 14 of the Conservative Party’s 2010 election manifesto, Invitation to Join the Government of Britain.
In an assessment report published today, the commission says this amounted to providing support to the party on behalf of the charity. The commission’s guidance emphasises that charities must not support or oppose political parties or candidates, but can campaign on a policy that coincides with that of a political party.
The commission has not issued Tomorrow’s People with any formal sanctions or opened a regulatory compliance case, but has provided the charity with guidance on “the legal and regulatory requirements that must be complied with by charities and the risks associated with any engagement within the political environment”, the report says.
In response to the commission’s investigation into the case, the charity said its contribution to the manifesto was intended to indicate support for the Conservative Party’s proposed Work Programme, rather than the party as a whole. “
Update 8: Tomorrow’s People, who just joined Twitter after this debacle, are blaming Close Protection UK: “we’ll be issuing a full statement tomorrow morning – we’re urgently reviewing our involvement with Close Protection UK”.
Update 9: This story is sweeping around the web, Walesonline’s Unpaid Jubilee stewards probe urged, the Press Association and even the Australian.
Update 10: The Guardian’s letters page:
“Your report (Jobless bussed in to steward pageant, 5 June) captures what was felt by many of us who would not succumb to the diamond jubilee’s self-fulfilling PR. It reminded me of going to church when I was younger. The merry music, the pseudo-sense of community and deference to higher authority. It’s meant to feel good. It does feel good. But it is a chimera. The reality is that many workers involved in the event were “paid” £2.80 an hour by a private company, bussed in and left stranded on the side of a road at 3am, with only a wet, concrete floor for a bed. Perhaps those in the royal box might care to top up those workers’ wages to the minimum and thank them for helping make their evening so jolly. Land of hope and glory? Plus ça change.
Update 11: UPI picked up the story, Jubilee stewards left out in cold?
Update 12: Time too, Report: Security Firm Made Jubilee Staffers Sleep Under Bridge.
Update 13: The Political Scrapbook has an informative post, Director of Jubilee stewards firm had five companies struck off.
Update 14: Radio 4 had John Prescott on Today: Wednesday 6th June at 08:10.