The Olympic Games this year just wouldn’t be a British affair were there not a serious and foreboding crisis less than two weeks prior to the opening ceremony. As a nation, we have an amazing ability to get things badly wrong at crucial times, whipping ourselves up into a frenzy of blame and pessimism, only to come together in adversity and produce a major success against all odds.
The current crisis concerning the lack of preparation of G4S, the company who won a £300million contract to provide security for the Games is one such example. It is pathetic that such a shambles has not been averted, but, regardless, the Games will go ahead, because we are able to turn to that age old institution that has always been ready to serve the country at a time of crisis: the British Army. If I were to choose a backup to a private company who unashamedly tells employees their actions ”need to be measured in a commercial sense first and foremost”, it would most certainly be the Army.
…a significant challenge to recruit, train and coordinate all the security guards in time for the Games…
There is an undeniable irony that in the same month the Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, announced cuts to the Armed Forces that will wipe out traditional regiments, the government is forcing at least 3,500 troops to provide security cover; many of whom have recently returned from Afghanistan and were due leave with their families. In a positive sense, at least the job will be done properly, and all the guards will be able to speak English: G4S Chief Executive, Nick Buckles, was unable to confirm that this would be the case with his employees.
But, how on Earth was the Olympic security situation ever allowed to get to such a dire situation so close to the Games? The contract was awarded to G4S nearly 5 years ago and as the largest security company in the world, with 657,000 employees in 125 countries and a £7.5 billion turnover, if anyone is able to carry out the job, it should be them. And yet, despite a Public Accounts Committee report in March 2012 that warned that there was “a significant challenge to recruit, train and coordinate all the security guards in time for the Games”, the Home Secretary, Teresa May, claims only to have known about the problems of recruiting staff last Wednesday; and Mr Buckles averred on Saturday he was only told, “eight or nine days ago”. As Yvette Cooper rightly asked in the Commons last week, why did the Home Office not know what was going on? After all, Whitehall has final decisions on work permits, and it is understood that a bottleneck of G4S work permit applications were piling up at the Home Office.
Does the government not trust MI5 to get the job done properly?
As Director of Security and Resilience for LOCOG, Sir Ian Johnston, has some serious questions to answer. If security procedures can be handled in other major sporting events, such as football World Cups, then how come it has gone so badly wrong in London? And what potentially serious mistakes have already been made? Likewise how many people will be able to get past G4S security guards and take advantage of the culture of sleeping on duty that has been exposed by security consultant, Peter Bleksley, and reported in the Sunday Times?
Well at least we can be sure and confident that our backs will be covered by our own loyal troops, trained security services, pilotless drones, surface to air missiles and… the FBI. Yet again, our government is keen to cede away sovereignty to our trans-Atlantic cousins in the name of “security”. Does the government not trust MI5 to get the job done properly? Regardless, we should look forward to the Olympic Games knowing full well that with extra troops being drafted in to provide security cover, we are going to be far safer that we ever would have been under G4S.