In 2010 the private security firm G4S was contracted to provide over 13,000 security staff for the forthcoming London Olympics. But they will fail to do so – and apparently only realised a week or so ago that they were disastrously behind schedule.
The government will now have to bring in troops to carry out these duties in order to ensure that adequate security measures are in place for the start of the Games.
Channel Four News has also reported that the Metropolitan Police has contingency plans for police officers to secure venues in the days leading up to the Games because of G4S’ failure.
Or, to put it another way, privatisation has failed yet again. And the public sector will once more be left to pick up the pieces.
Home Secretary Theresa May said it was discovered just last Wednesday, 16 days before the Games begin, that G4S would not be able to provide enough trained security staff. Was there no form of reporting system in place? Did Ms May take them at their word that things would work out in the end?
And just how difficult can it be to find staff in a time of high unemployment? OK, they need to be trained properly and put through the appropriate security certification processes. But then G4S knew all of this when it signed the contract. That’s what it is being paid £284,000,000 to do. And it should have ensured that the process was properly planned and timetabled – with appropriate contingencies built in.
Yet Nick Buckles, their Chief Executive, told the BBC that his company now accepted it had “underestimated the task of supplying staff to the Olympics”. Incompetence then?
Or had they simply tried to do things on the cheap? Minimise the training time, and leave it until the last minute so that those low paid security staff received as little in wages as possible?
But, let’s face it, G4S does not exactly have a good track record. The company runs private prisons and in 2011 managed to lose a set of keys for Birmingham Prison! This meant that every single lock had to be replaced at an estimated cost of £250,000. Earlier this year it lost a lucrative contract with the European Parliament and it has also lost a UK government contract to deport foreign nationals after receiving a high volume of complaints of abuse.
G4S will now face a penalty of up to £20m for failing to live up to its Olympic promise. It will also be expected to meet some of the cost of the Ministry of Defence drafting in 3,500 additional troops. It could end up losing as much as £50m on the contract.
Mr Buckles was once asked in an interview who his hero was. His answer? “Margaret Thatcher, because in the early years she led the biggest economic turnaround in recent history.” How apt for a man who has just demonstrated the failure of privatisation.
The Olympic Games has been marketed as a means of showing the world what Great Britain can provide. And the sad thing is that with a poorly planned private sector failure it is doing exactly that.