Cobra committee discusses Olympics
Monday 23 July 2012
Security, transport and the threat of strikes were on the agenda for a top-level pre-Olympics meeting of the Government's Cobra contingencies committee, chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron this morning.
Senior ministers, Olympic organisers and security chiefs are expected to attend the meetings in the Cabinet Office on most mornings of the Games period to keep a close eye on potential problems and ensure a swift response to anything which might disrupt the event.
Home Secretary Theresa May told the gathering that plans to ensure a safe and secure Olympics were "robust", despite the failure of private security firm G4S to provide the promised numbers of guards. And the meeting heard that pools of people were available to stand in for striking border guards at Heathrow and other airports if the industrial action planned for Thursday goes ahead.
Also present at today's meeting - described by 10 Downing Street as a "stock-taking" session - were Transport Secretary Justine Greening, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, London Mayor Boris Johnson, Olympic organisers Locog and senior representatives of the police and military.
A member of the national security agencies MI5 or MI6 is also expected to be present for the daily meetings throughout the Olympics.
"This is an opportunity for the relevant ministers to take stock every morning to make sure we are dealing with any issues as they arise and ensure that we are effectively co-ordinating," said Mr Cameron's official spokesman.
On security, the spokesman said: "Our current assessment is that we have robust plans in place. We will do everything we need to do to ensure we have a safe and secure Olympics.
"G4S are continuing to train staff and those staff are turning up at the Olympic venues to secure them. One of the things we have been monitoring is the number of G4S staff at the various venues.
"We are confident that we have the manpower in place to secure the Games."
Following reports in the Sun that a crime ring in Pakistan was offering false passports, visas and access to the Olympic venues, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "My understanding is that we are confident that we have the checks in place and the arrangements in place to deal with these issues.
"The delegation lists for the Olympic Games are very tightly controlled and when it comes to Pakistan we have had highly-trained staff based in Pakistan dealing with the authorities there to deal with this."
Mr Maude and Mrs May told the meeting about preparations for the 24-hour walkout planned for Thursday by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) in a row over jobs and pay, which is expected to involve staff at the Home Office, including UK Border Agency workers.
Mr Cameron's spokesman said the option of sacking strikers was not discussed at today's meeting, a day after Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that ministers had been asking about the possibility.
"We have said that we don't see any justification for this strike, but our focus is entirely on ensuring that we have the arrangements in place that we need at Heathrow and other airports," said the spokesman.
"The discussion was on the contingency plans and ensuring that we have relevant number of people free."
The spokesman said that only around 10% of PCS members voted in favour of the strike action and it was unclear how many workers would stay away on the day. Management are now seeking to find out how many staff are planning to turn up to work.
There are pools of people available, including Whitehall civil servants, who have done the necessary training to step in and fill gaps if needed, said the spokesman.
And he added: "The PCS have been saying this strike is nothing to do with the Olympics. Well, the strike is planned for later this week, and it's difficult for others not to see a connection there."
Ms Greening spoke to today's meeting about the transport situation in London, which Mr Cameron's spokesman acknowledged would be difficult.
The network of Olympic lanes stretching over 30 miles of the capital's roads will become fully operational from Wednesday. Painting of the lanes was completed over the weekend and some have already been put in use, notably on the M4 from Heathrow into central London.
But the meeting heard the lanes will be used "flexibly" to speed athletes and members of the Olympic family to events through rush-hour traffic, while being lifted during quiet periods.
"The reality is that there is going to be disruption," said the Prime Minister's spokesman.
"We have huge numbers of people coming to London to enjoy the Olympic Games and that will put pressure on the transport system.
"We have been keen to stress that point, so that people who don't have to come into London don't come into London."
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