Government refuses to rule out using more troops for Olympic security

 

The Government today refused to rule out the prospect that more troops will have to be drafted in to the London Olympics in the wake of the G4S security fiasco.

With less than two weeks until the opening ceremony, ministers insisted the Games would be secure and dismissed the firm's failure to provide the promised 10,000 security guards as no more than a "hitch".

Earlier, however, it emerged that they had been warned 10 months ago in a confidential report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) about concerns over security.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was at pains to defend G4S from criticism, even going so far as to suggest it was "completely normal" for firms to break their contractual commitments on large projects.

"G4S have been quite honourable. They have put their hands up. Nick Buckles, the chief executive, has said they got it wrong, they have apologised, they are going to cover all the costs, he has apologised to the troops who are going to be drafted in at the last moment," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

"I think it is completely normal that you are going to find some contractors on a project of this size who aren't able to deliver what they have promised."

But pressed on whether the 3,500 additional troops who have been brought in to make up the shortfall would be sufficient, he said: "We have contingency plans for all eventualities,"

London 2012 chairman Lord Coe denied security had been compromised and appeared to lay blame for the problems with the staff hired by G4S.

"It was only when the rubber hit the road that we were able to see, as G4S identified, a gap," he told BBC 5 Live's Sportsweek.

"The reality is, and I cannot put this any more simply, when they expected people to materialise, they simply didn't. That is why we moved quickly to stem that gap."

The Home Office, meanwhile, confirmed that ministers had received a report from HMIC last September raising a number of "issues to be addressed" with the Games organising committee, Locog, although it said these had already been dealt with.

"We asked HMIC to carry out a number of inspections to test that Locog security planning was on track," a spokesman said.

"While an early inspection highlighted issues to be addressed, a report in February 2012 said that Locog was on track to deliver the required number of security personnel."

It was following the HMIC report that a review of security requirements led Locog to increase the number of security guards to be supplied by G4S from 2,000 to 10,400 while the value of the contract more than trebled from £86 million to £284 million.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the whole issue raised questions about the ability of G4S to take on major public sector contracts with organisations like the police.

"They do look a complete shower at the moment, I think it is shocking what they have done. Frankly I think you have to have an awful lot of scepticism about their ability to deliver a contract," she told BBC1's Sunday Politics.

"I would certainly not want to be contracting out core public policing to (G4S), which is what the Government is trying to do, I think that's a big mistake."

Mr Buckles, who is due before the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday, has admitted he may be forced to quit his £830,000-a-year job in the wake of the Olympic debacle.

He told the Sunday Telegraph that the episode was a "big set-back" but he plans to stay to help the company deliver the contract, after which his future will be decided by shareholders.

Meanwhile, Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman backed calls for the troops drafted in to cover for the missing security guards to be paid bonuses along the lines of the £500 being paid to public sector staff who work during the Games.

"That bonus should come from G4S," she told Sky News's Murnaghan programme. "It shouldn't be the taxpayer that should be paying for the bonus which I'm sure everyone thinks they should get."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it was for the military top brass to decide on any compensation or bonus payments for the troops involved.

"We will take advice from the senior leadership of the armed forces on how most appropriately to recognise the contribution that the armed forces are making," he told the Murnaghan programme.

"The armed forces has a very particular ethos of its own. There are ways that they do things and ways that they don't."

He said that he was concentrating on ensuring the troops were given "reasonable" accommodation, with "good food, good recreational facilities, good wi-fi and broadband connectivity".

PA

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