Friday, 13 July 2012

Oops, need troops!

From the country that brought you the Millennium Dome, please welcome, London 2012. A fortnight away from an event planned over seven years, we find a security personnel shortfall of about 3000 staff. The MoD, already providing 13,500 helping hands, now need up to 17,000, many of whom will be servicemen and women returning home from Afghanistan to find their holiday plans postponed.

G4S, the company with the lucrative security contract for the Games, have others too. The world’s largest private security firm also manage immigration detention centres, conduct deportations, empty cash machines, read meters, and have been bidding to take over large tranches of police operations.

Although the current kerfuffle is on Coalition time, the company won the contract on Labour’s watch. In response, Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said that G4S should really have been monitored “day by day”, to be certain they were as good as their word. Why, is the office staffed entirely by four-year-olds? I monitor my son’s hot chocolate making activities, but if he was a veteran of several foreign conflicts I would hope that only minimal supervision would be necessary.

In fairness to G4S, the initial government estimate of 10,000 security staff needed for the Games, was revised up last year to around 23,500. However, every time the goal posts moved, the match fee increased. The Telegraph report leaked Home Office documents revealing the fee for G4S staff management went from £7.3 million to £60 million. With all that cash in the till, why not sub-contract? Industry insiders say the staffing shortfall could have been easily met by London agencies alone. Instead, it seems that students, some of questionable suitability, were being shipped in on £8.50 per hour as a supplement, and without sufficient success. As incompetency is more contagious than the common cold, it should also be no surprise to learn that no penalty clause was included for failure to deliver on the £284 million contract.

One might expect future G4S bids to be subject to increased scrutiny on the back of this understaffing oversight, but such is not always the way in Westminster. If the Olympics prove an unparalleled paragon of sporting success, and a commercial combustion engine to aid our ailing economy, then the G4S fiasco will be a forgotten footnote. But that is an “if” as big as the fee they will no doubt fail to forfeit.  

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