Q&A: Olympic security
- 12 July 2012
- From the section UK
What has changed in the Olympic security plan?
The Ministry of Defence is going to provide an extra 3,500 troops to run security at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The decision to bring in more troops came after it emerged that G4S, the company providing security guards for venues, was increasingly unlikely to recruit and train enough security guards in time.
How big is the security operation overall?
This is the biggest peacetime security plan ever in the UK. Officials across government began thinking about it even before London was chosen as host city in July 2005. The security broadly breaks down into two parts which have separate budgets - the policing operation, costing up to £600m, and the plans to secure venues and other Olympic sites, which costs a further £553m. The Metropolitan Police has overall command of the national Olympic security plan and it answers to the home secretary. Its plans have been in place for a long time now and the total policing bill is probably going to be well under the £600m ceiling.
Locog, the Games' organiser, has been responsible for organising the security of venues but it in effect answerable to the home secretary because of her national responsibilities for making sure that the UK remains safe.
So what are the numbers?
Big. There are going to be 12,500 police earmarked to specific Olympic-related duties. But the controversial part of the equation is venue security. The government and Games organisers want approximately 24,000 security personnel available for venues. That figure is more than double the original estimate - and G4S was selected as the provider of the lion's share of those personnel. To date, it has provided 4,000 security guards who are already working and was initially asked to provide 10,000. But, with two weeks to go, it has not signed off the deployment of all the others which were needed to hit the 24,000 target.
The military had already separately committed 7,500 - but has now been asked to step in and provide a further 3,500 because the government isn't convinced that G4S can meet its targets. That takes the total military deployment to the Games to 17,000.
What jobs will the military do?
As many as 11,000 military will be performing venue security roles - such as general security on venue gates and bag checks. Some 5,000 personnel will be in specialist roles, such as bomb disposal squads, special forces and the controversial London missile sites. A further 1,000 will be involved in logistical support.
When did the gap in G4S capability emerge?
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, says officials were receiving reassurances from G4S until "very recently" and the gap "only crystallised" on Wednesday 11 July. She told MPs on Thursday that the company no longer felt it could guarantee the numbers it has previously said it could. Earlier in the week she was pressed in Parliament over whether G4S was on track and she said: "We have been testing our plans thoroughly and are confident that our partners will deliver a safe and secure games but we are not complacent and will leave nothing to chance, so we will stay on the case."
Had nobody raised any previous concerns?
The Public Accounts Committee did. In its March 2012 report into preparations, it warned that: "LOCOG and its security contractor, G4S, now face a significant challenge to recruit, train and coordinate all the security guards in time for the Games." The MPs said that they had been told by the Home Office and Locog that they were confident G4S would be able to provide "all the required private sector security guards."
Who's going to pay for the military personnel?
The home secretary was repeatedly asked whether G4S would be financially penalised if it has broken its contract - but the contract is with the Games' organisers, not the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence. Since her Commons statement, G4S confirmed that it has agreed to pay for the deployment of those 3,500 extra military staff.
Does the Olympics need that many security personnel?
The security operation has been designed with worse-case scenarios in mind. Nobody involved in the operation would have forgotten that the day after London was chosen for 2012, suicide bombers attacked the capital. There is no intelligence to suggest that there is that kind of threat to the Games - but the Home Office has constructed the strategy on the basis of the UK facing a severe threat, so that nothing has been left to chance. That means that there will be an awful lot of checking at entry points to venues which will be operated on the same basis as airport security.
Does this decision have wider implications?
The government has been putting massive pressure on the police to cut costs and G4S and other companies have been queuing up to offer their services. Lincolnshire Police, for instance, has already signed a massive deal with the company. But the rank-and-file are largely opposed to more civilianisation and privatisation of police roles. The Police Federation says that a constable's first duty is to the public and a private company's first duty is to its profits. Many police were hoping that the controversy over Olympic recruitment would slow the pace of privatisation. Since the Olympics news broke Surrey Police Authority has decided to shelve its outsourcing plans - but that may not be overly surprising as the incoming chief constable had wanted the force to rethink the plans.