From India to Guernsey: Museum’s Outsourcing Journey Goes On

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Naval Guns outside Imperial War Museum, London

Following the winding up of museum contractor, Shield Guarding, the livelihoods of the Imperial War Museum’ Visitor Services and Security staff lies in the hands of a private equity firm. Alchemy Partners, which owns the new contractor, Noonan Services, specialises in investing in “distressed and underperforming businesses” to achieve “superior risk-adjusted returns” for its investor clients.

In 2011, the Imperial War Museum conducted a Visitor Services & Security review to compare the in-house service with the market. The review focused on “effectiveness, efficiencies and also opportunities for staff development.” A decision was reached to outsource the department and, in 2013, IWM had a successful bidder – “Shield Group,” a collection of security firms owned by Indian conglomerate, Topsgrup, was awarded the £10–11 million contract.

In April, this year, two years into a three year contract, Shield Guarding, went into administration. It has since been reported that the company made a £3.5 million loss in 2014 and, for some time, stopped paying staff pensions contributions, resulting in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) reporting them to the Pensions Regulator.

After months of rumour, IWM staff discovered that, following administration proceedings, they now worked for an Irish cleaning, facilities management and security firm, Noonan Services Group, who had bought the assets and business of the defunct Shield Guarding.

Noonan and Alchemy Partners

Noonan was set up in 1977 as a family business by Noel Noonan, a Limerick-born Irish businessman. In those days, it had a handful of staff and specialised in cleaning services. It grew dramatically but was still primarily a cleaning and maintenance firm until 2002 when it purchased an Irish security firm. In 2006, Noonan made a pretax profit of €4.3 million from a turnover of €103 million.

In 2008, Noonan was sold for €90 million in a management buy-out backed by a private equity firm, Alchemy Partners, described by Bloomberg as a “vulture firm.”

Alchemy Partners’ fund management company, Alchemy Partners (Guernsey) Ltd, is based in Guernsey and has businesses based in London. Between formation in 1997 and 2004, Alchemy was reported to have made a return of £1bn for investors, including Goldman Sachs Asset Management and British Aerospace investment fund.

The Deal

Alchemy’s acquisition of the defunct Shield Guarding, for an undisclosed sum, bears similarities to their purchase of another distressed business, Belfast-based outsourcing firm, Resource.

In 2014, Resource went into administration after an order requested by a Guernsey-based company, known as R3768723 Ltd, which is thought to be owned by Alchemy Partners.

John Hansen and Stuart Irwin, of KPMG in Ireland, were appointed as administrators of the defunct company and Noonan Services Group came in to purchase the business and assets.

Likewise, after Shield Guarding went into administration in April 2016, KPMG’s John Hansen and Stuart Irwin were appointed as administrators (by which time, Shield Guarding were known as Jameson and Harrison Security Limited). Noonan Services Group took over the business of Shield Guarding.

The Future

From finding themselves working for a firm owned by an Indian conglomerate, Imperial War Museum Visitor Services and Security are now employed by a company headquartered in Dublin, whose registered office is in Surrey and whose parent company is a vulture capital firm registered in Guernsey.

More significantly, the contractual rights of IWM staff, from all five branches, are in jeopardy and the policy of hiring staff on zero hour contracts at the Museum is likely to continue.

 

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Museum Contractor Goes Bust

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Shield Guarding, the private security firm that was given a £10-11 million contract by the Imperial War Museums  to provide Visitor Services and Security, has gone bust two years into the contract. The business and assets of the defunct company have been acquired by Noonan, a facilities management company owned by private equity firm, Alchemy.

The privatisation, in December 2013, was controversial for turning over Museum front-of-house employees to a security firm with no visitor services experience. IWM made the decision for “effectiveness, efficiencies and and also opportunities for staff development.” Aside from quality of service,  concerns were raised that Shield Group profited by placing their staff on zero-hour contracts.

The contract with Shield, owned by Indian firm Topsgrup, was beset by payroll and administrative errors and failure to pay staff pensions on time resulted in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) reporting the company to the Pensions Regulator.

In June 2016, security staff from Shield Group working at the University of Portsmouth threatened a walk out if delays over their pay continued.

A winding up order was published, in February 2016, only to be retracted a few days later. On 8th April, administrators were officially appointed.

The PCSU, which represents some of the staff whose contracts were privatised, has urged that the Museum consider bringing the service back in-house. Moreover, question marks have been raised, again, about the contracting out process.

Loyalist Murder Weapon Found at IWM

VZ58 assault gun found at the Imperial War Museum (BBC)

VZ58 assault gun found at the Imperial War Museum (BBC)

A potentially important piece of evidence of British participation in loyalist paramilitary terrorism in Northern Ireland has been discovered in a display case in the Imperial War Museum London.

A BBC panorama show has revealed that a VZ58 automatic assault gun, until recently held on display by the Museum, has been identified by investigators as a weapon used in the loyalist paramilitary attack on a bookmakers in south Belfast. On 5th February 1992, two gunmen entered Sean Graham Bookmakers’ on Lower Ormeau Road and gunned down five civilians, including a fifteen year old who died from his injuries in hospital.

The unsolved killings have long been suspected as a case of collusion by state forces, including the Royal Ulster Constabularly (RUC) and British Army military intelligence, with the paramilitary force that claimed the killing, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), also known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Investigations by Northern Ireland’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the Stevens Inquiry III  had discovered that, in 1989, RUC Special Branch had received a 5mm Browning handgun from an agent who operated in the UDA, only to return it to the group, supposedly in a deactivated state. However, the gun was then used in two further attacks which killed six people, including the five innocent civilians in Sean Graham Bookmakers’ on Lower Ormeau Road.

The other murder weapon, the VZ58 Czech-made assault gun was allegedly destroyed by the RUC. However, Darragh McIntyre in his BBC Panorama show reveals that the gun has been on display in the Imperial War Museum in London. Officers from Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman have reportedly taken possession of the weapon for tests.

The gun could directly connect British intelligence to the Sean Graham Bookmakers’ killings, as well as the murders of two Catholic men in 1988 to which the gun is linked. British military intelligence are known to have hired a UDA operative, Brian Nelson, to travel to South Africa in 1985 to meet an arms dealer. Two years later, in December 1987, a shipment of weapons, including a large quantity of VZ58s, arrived at Belfast.

British sources say that the shipment slipped through the radar of their surveillance. Whilst some of the weapons were recovered by the RUC, the rearmament intensified loyalist attacks. According to The Guardian, in the six years before the shipment, loyalists had killed around 70 people. In the subsequent six years around 230 were killed.

The VZ58 assault gun found at IWM is also linked to the 1988 murders of Seamus Morris and Peter Dolan by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), as well as the attempted murder of Gerard Burns in March of that year. The UDA were in possession of the weapon when their members carried out the Bookmakers killings before the RUC supposedly destroyed it.

As in a number of other cases, it is suspected that not only was at least one of the murder weapons procured with direct British assistance but that a British agent was amongst the murderers. One of prime suspects in the Bookmakers killings was never arrested or publicly identified, despite being known to intelligence.

In 2012, relatives of the six victims of the 1994 loyalist attack in Loughinisland, County Down, brought legal action against the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Police Service in Northern Ireland (PSNI) over collusion in the deaths. A VZ58 assault gun was used in the shootings and part of the families’ claim focuses on British involvement in arming the killers.

This year, families of more than 100 victims have brought a challenge to the chief constable of the PSNI in the courts. The High Court heard from a HET senior investigating officer that a draft report into collusion during the 1970s between state forces and loyalist paramilitary groups had been shelved without explanation.

The discovery of the gun at IWM could support such cases, as well as justify the re-opening of the Sean Graham Bookmakers’ killings case. The position of the victims’ families has also been strengthened by the legal victory last year that forced the handing over of intelligence files on informers by the PSNI to the Police Ombudsman.

Amnesty International have called for an independent investigation into a “policy where the police, army and MI5 worked with illegal paramilitary groups, resulting in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of people.”

 

IWM’s Response

After writing a few time to IWM’s Director-General, Diane Lees, she helpfully agreed to put my concerns about the the Annual Defence Dinner (the annual arms trader dinner held at IWM London) and other IWM funding from arms manufacturers, such as BAE Systems and Boeing UK, before the Board of Trustees, who are the ultimate decision-makers.

Ms Lees, reporting the Board’s decision, stated:

“The Board is confident that IWM has robust systems and policies in place to ensure that all financial contributions to IWM are appropriate and present no conflict of interest. Our financial supporters have no influence over the way we present our subject to the public, and our policy is to be unbiased, reflecting a variety of views and operating within the code of ethics for museums. Our subject is of course a very complex one and we take the ethics and sensitivities of how we present war and conflict very seriously.”

This response fails to properly discuss the ethics of funding and whether it is immoral to accept money from corporations that profit from conflict and openly arm violent, authoritarian regimes (with the approval of the government). Secondly, it asserts the editorial independence of the Museum from funders but offers no evidence for this. It is merely a claim by the Board which I am meant to accept blindly. I would, however, ask, how often IWM has examined the role of arms manufacturers in conflict in recent aldecades? How often, even, has IWM evaluated the motivations of British involvement in recent wars?

Moreover, you have to wonder where IWM would draw the line with funders. What is “inappropriate” as a funder if arms dealers who enable brutal, criminal violence by states and, in the case of BAE, are regularly exposed to be engaged in unlawful activity are considered appropriate by the Trustees?

Put simply, the letter is a, “trust us, we know best” from the Trustees.

 

The Relevance of Lawrence of Arabia’s Bike

The Evening Standard report that the Imperial War Museum has removed from its collections the 998cc Brough Superior SS100 motorbike on which TE Lawrence had the accident that would eventually kill him on 19th May 1935. According to the Evening Standard report, IWM consider it no longer “relevant”.

“…(A) skittish motorcycle with a touch of blood in it,” is how Thomas Edward Lawrence, dubbed ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ once described his custom built motorbike – one of eight Brough Superiors he owned in his lifetime. Two months after leaving military service, Lawrence was involved in a fatal crash. He was driving in rural Dorset near his home in Wareham when he swerved to avoid two boys on bicycles. Having lost control, he was, it is reported, thrown over the handlebars and sustained head injures. He was not wearing a helmet. Six days after the crash, Lawrence passed away in hospital.

According to this Daily Telegraph story, after the accident the bike was sold back to manufacturer George Brough and then sold on to a Cambridge dealer. It is now valued by some in excess of £1.5 million.

The final period of TE Lawrence’s life was one of disillusionment that lead him to cease to work for the British government on Arabian political affairs and seek anonymity and isolation. Lawrence had been a strong advocate of Arab independence after WW1 but subsequently found that the British and French governments would renege on pledges made during the war and carve up the region to fulfil their own Imperialistic ambitions. The Sykes-Picot secretly deal divided up the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into French and British spheres of influence. TE Lawrence left politics in frustration and would later seek positions in the RAF and the Royal Tank Corps under pseudonyms.

The Imperial War Museum report that the Brough Superior SS100 bike has been returned to its private lender, ending a loan period. It would seem that IWM could find no place for the item in its newly revamped London branch.

Update 1:

Whilst TE Lawrence’s last motorbike is out, coming into IWM is a Honda CG 125 (clone) motorbike allegedly belonging to the Taliban that British forces collected in Afghanistan during Operation Herrick. According to the MOD, it is the first piece of “‘enemy kit” that they have picked for IWM’s ‘War Stories: Serving in Afghanistan’ exhibition about British forces in that country. The bike was reportedly captured by members of C Company, 1st Battalion The Rifles in Nahr E Saraj on 4th May 2011. It was transported to Britain with the aid of the MOD who, along with weapons manufacturer, Boeing Defence Uk, support IWM’s War Stories exhibition.