Jeremy Hunt defends under fire security giant G4S


Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today defended beleaguered security giant G4S, insisting it was “completely normal” for contractors on projects like the London Olympics to fail to meet their commitments.

Mr Hunt said the firm had been "quite honourable" in the way it had accepted responsibility for the debacle which has seen 3,500 extra troops being drafted in after it was unable to deliver the promised numbers of security guards.

Despite troops returning from arduous operational tours in Afghanistan being forced to cancel leave in order to fill the gaps, he dismissed the problem as no more than a "hitch" which has now been dealt with.

"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."

Mr Hunt denied that ministers had failed to supervise the contract properly, insisting they had received repeated assurances from G4S that it was on course to meet its commitment to provide 10,000 guards for the Games.

"We, of course, have been monitoring the situation at G4S. Their management told us right up until last week that everything was on track. The moment that they didn't, we put in place a contingency plan," he said.

Mr Hunt refused to rule out the possibility that more troops may have to be brought in.

"We have contingency plans for all eventualities," he said.

His comments came as it emerged that ministers had been warned 10 months ago about concerns over security for the Games.

The Home Office confirmed that they had received a confidential report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in February of last year raising a number of "issues to be addressed" with the Games organisers, Locog.

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

"We have been clear that only on Wednesday did G4S confirm that it was unable to meet its staffing commitment."

Despite having earlier said that among the issues HMIC was looking at was whether G4S "was delivering on its contract", it later put out a revised statement saying that it had not carried out an investigation into the firm.

London 2012 chairman Lord Coe denied security at the Games would be compromised by the problems facing G4S and appeared to lay blame with staff hired by the security multinational.

"The reality is that 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.

"This actually wasn't about supply, they [G4S] have been interviewing about 100,000 people. 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."

He added that there had always been an understanding that the military would play a part at the Games, saying that G4S would be compensating the Armed Forces for the cost of calling up extra troops.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond admitted that providing the level of security required for the Games was always going to present problems.

"Delivering the volume of security required at the site was always going to be a significant management challenge and it's had a lot of attention," he told Sky News's Murnaghan programme.

He said the decision to deploy extra troops was in order to "err on the side of caution" in case G4S was unable to produce the required numbers.

"The security required to make the Olympics safe and secure will be in place. We will ensure that the Games are secure," he said.

He said that 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 said.

"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".

Speaking on the BBC Sunday Politics show, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper refused absolutely to rule out contracting G4S in future if she was in government.

But she said: "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 - but I think it is not just about G4S.

"Everybody is working to deliver the Olympics. There has been fantastic work delivering the venues and so on but it's not just about G4S letting the country down, why on earth did the Home Office not know what was happening?

"Two weeks before the Olympics it is utter incompetence.

"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."