It looks like G4S, now under new management since the departure of CEO Nick Buckles, is in no mood to be pushed around by a mere Minister of the Crown. It would seem that Chris Grayling has seriously misjudged the relationship between government and contractor in the brave new Tory world where public services have been privatised.
Having been thoroughly humiliated during the Olympic security fiasco last year, and with further contracts in the offing, Grayling thought G4S would have no stomach for a fight and would simply roll over like Serco and have it's tummy tickled.
No such luck as G4S is defiantly saying that they stuck to the letter of the tagging contract and it was HM Courts Service and HM Prison Service that screwed up in not providing accurate and timely information - and who runs these two organisations? Why Chris Grayling and the Ministry of Justice of course.
G4S has effectively called Grayling's bluff and said see you in court! Interestingly, according to this article in the Guardian, the Serious Fraud Office has not as yet accepted the invitation to investigate the company, and may in fact decline the suggestion. If this proves to be correct and the SFO feels there is insufficient evidence to get involved, Mr Grayling may find himself up the proverbial creek and without the means to paddle.
He may also find to his cost just how few friends he has made in his department. Not having people watching your back can be a very unwise, uncomfortable and unpleasant place to be, and I think there will be plenty of civil servants who will relish the prospect of failing to adequately assist in preventing his fall from grace.
It just keeps getting worse for the guy because G4S are also refusing to withdraw quietly from the bidding process for the new tagging contracts and according to this Mirror article, are likely to win the contract for lie detectors to be used in helping probation officers monitor sex offenders. I'm not sure he has any legal power to prevent them from bidding, and if they don't win, he'd better make sure it was all fair and square! (whisper it ever so quietly, West Coast Mainline...)
I suspect that by nature Mr Grayling is a bully and normally used to getting his own way. However, what we are witnessing is a very neat lesson in just how little authority a minister has over commercial organisations that run services on behalf of HM Government. As much as it's humiliating for him, it's very nicely questioning the case for privatising more public services, a fundamental pillar of conservative policy of course.
He failed to fully appreciate that because of the sheer global size of G4S, they don't have a great deal to lose, seeing as only between 8% and 10% of their business is with the UK government, unlike Serco's 45%. The harsh reality is that the government needs G4S rather more than they need the government.
In this new privatised world that the Tories feel is so much more efficient, Grayling has simply failed to notice that power has shifted inexorably towards these huge and utterly unaccountable security behemoths. The Minister is left angry and impotent and having to argue the toss, expensively through the courts probably, as lawyers pore over all that not-too-cleverly drafted MoJ small print.
So, where does this all leave the programme for privatising the Probation Service? Why, as we know, according to the Minister, everything is proceeding nicely according to plan......