If you needed a stirring message about the coronavirus pandemic, you would hardly think it might be delivered from the Serco Chief Executive Rupert Soames?
Think Beacon Park Golf Course, think swimming with cockroaches! But, and it may be tongue in cheek, he has urged Serco employees to “stand by our country and do what needs to be done”. Or is it “stand by Serco and watch for a chance to make money!”?
About half of Serco’s staff work in UK prisons, hospitals, defence, transport, and border security. Soames called on the “Serco army” of thousands providing vital services to the public to “play their part in achieving a “victory in the battle against coronavirus”.
He went on to tell employees to prepare to shed “sweat and maybe a few tears” in an echo of his grandfather’s famous “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech on becoming Prime Minister as the Second World War raged in May 1940. “Now is the time we show our mettle” Soames said in a message to employees on Friday. ‘We do important work. That pride which we all have in delivering public services also brings with it a responsibility as a company and as individuals to the people and governments we serve”. Not forgetting the £68million for tagging dead prisoners a few years ago!
‘It may be inconvenient if you go to the shops to find there is a shortage of bananas. But it is disastrous if we cannot keep our hospitals clean, our prisons safe and our public transport running. In the next few weeks everybody in the company is likely to be asked to work in different ways, to cover for colleagues who are ill themselves, caring for relatives or looking after children who are locked out of schools. We cannot be proud to deliver public services and not stand up to be counted in a crisis.
“This is going to be a serious challenge in every company where we operate’ said Soames, who has been chief executive of Serco since 2014. “Hopefully we’ll be back to normal relatively fast” he added, while warning it would “possibly get a lot worse before it gets better”. Soames said Serco was contacting staff separately to provide practical advice, but before that he wanted to “talk on a more fundamental level”.
He admitted he had ‘been on a bit of a personal journey’ because he had initially underestimated the severity of the situation. “Frankly, I started off thinking that this was just like a nasty flu. Unfortunately, it has become clear that coronavirus is worse than flu for two reasons. First, it is particularly easy to catch. And second, because although 80 per cent of the people who get it only have mild symptoms, about 15 per cent of those infected become quite seriously ill.
“For people over 70 and those who have pre-existing medical conditions it is a more dangerous disease than flu. The consensus of expert opinion seems to be that many if not most people in the countries in which we live and work will, sooner or later, be infected by the virus. The next few months may see very severe disruption to your normal working and home life. Your children’s schools may be closed, public transport restricted, local health and social care stretched to breaking point. It is going to take ingenuity, flexibility, enormous effort, and, dare I say it, sweat and maybe a few tears to get through this. This will pass. The world and the magic of human immunity will defeat this horrible disease. What is important now is how well we play our part in securing that victory”.
So, just to be on the safe side, we must check the Serco balance sheet next year! And, watch the Beacon Park Golf Course mess, naturally!