Surviving the jokes: Group 4 Falck
Inevitably when there is any mention of the security firm and prison operator, Group 4, the jokes quickly follow.
Despite its efforts to repair its reputation, the company is still remembered for a series of security blunders it made in the early 1990s when it began offering prison services.
The company's image was severely dented after incidents in which its guards lost prisoners and cash-filled security vans.
However, the company says that it has now reduced the number of escapes, to fewer than when prisoners were transported by police and the state prison sector.
It currently manages 600,000 prisoner movements a year in the UK.
Group 4 become officially known as Group 4 Falck in June 2000 after it merged with another security company, Denmark's Falck. The merged company has been catapulted into the headlines again with a fire at its Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre in the UK. Group 4 Falck was running the centre, which only opened last November, under contract to the Home Office. The 900-bed facility is the largest in Europe and housed many refugees who had their applications to stay in the UK turned down.
Group 4 Falck, which has a turnover of about £1.5bn, is the world's second largest provider of security and related services. The company's shares are listed on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange and it has about 15,000 shareholders. Group 4 first became an entity in 1968 when it was founded by Jørgen Philip-Sørensen, a member of the Swedish family that set up Securitas. The newly named company brought together four different security businesses owned in the UK by the family. By the 1980s, Group 4 had split off from Securitas, even though it still runs a guarding business under the name Group 4 Securitas.
In recent times, the newly merged Group 4 Falck has strived to position itself at the forefront of the movement to privatise prisons. In the UK, it runs three of the prisons operated by the private sector, and also operates prisons in Australia and South Africa. In addition to running prisons, the company provides security services for more than 100 embassies, the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament and NATO buildings. This guarding side of the business is known as Group 4 Securitas, or the total security business. Guarding contracts have also included protecting the European Finance Ministers Meeting (ECOFIN), Labour party conferences and a G8 World Economic Conference.
On its website, the company boasts a personal reference from Prime Minister Tony Blair, made it provided security for a meeting of Commonwealth heads in 1997. Mr Blair said: "I am very grateful for Group 4's help in providing an extensive range of security staff and equipment." The company appears to be fairly well-connected in political circles and has tried hard to become key provider for the government's public-private initiatives. Its largest Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract to date in the UK is for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham. With a number of consortium partners, Group 4 Falck won the contract to design and construct a new GCHQ building, roughly the size of Wembley Stadium. Group 4 will also provide facilities management for 30 years.
Overall, the security service industry has been growing by about 6-8% a year, on the back of demand from corporate and private customers. The fragmented nature of the industry has also sparked talk of more mergers to come. Dutch bank ABN Amro sees Group 4 Falck as ripe for further consolidation this year and security services company Chubb has been named as its most likely merger partner. Despite its early embarrassments, Group 4 Falck seems well-placed to expand its existing security empire.