Stuff happens. When organising something as big as the Olympic Games some things are bound to go wrong. Sometimes the failures are simply funny. Just one day after its public unveiling in Trafalgar Square, the official 500 day Countdown Clock stopped counting down. It was a real-egg-on-face moment for LOCOG but harmless black comedy for everyone else.

Not so the security scandal that is G4S. The world’s largest security firm has been forced to come begging cap-in-hand to the Ministry of Defence and police to cover its shortfall in recruiting security personnel for the 100 Olympic venues.

G4S was initially contracted to deliver 2,000 security personnel. But after a major review of Olympic security last December, they were asked to deliver 10,400 personnel (plus 3,000 in reserve to cover last-minute dropouts). The armed forces were asked to provide 13,500 personnel.

At the time, G4S and LOCOG were roundly criticised for having so badly underestimated the security needs for the games. Nevertheless, LOCOG’s decision eight months ago to dramatically boost the force strength of both G4S private security personnel and British troops resulted in a windfall for G4S. Its contract went from £86M to £284M. And even with the news that it will now have to reimburse the Ministry of Defence for the costs in assigning extra troops to the games – costs that could run in excess of £50M – G4S appears to be getting off lightly.

G4S CEO Nick Buckles is facing a lot of questions about what went wrong.

Where does this leave security for the London Olympics? Answering this question is more difficult than it first appears. G4S has bungled one of its biggest assignments in its 110 years of history. With only 4,000 personnel so far recruited and numerous stories of problems with schedules, uniforms, training on x-ray machines, and so forth, the news from G4S could hardly be worse.

By all accounts, the world’s largest security firm was really scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to delivering what personnel it could for the London games. It is this that makes the accounts of some recruits falling asleep in training and others being unable to comprehend the English used by their instructors all too credible.

On the other hand, it now looks as if security has been substantially improved by using military personnel to do what the private sector was unable to do. If the G4S recruits are as ill-trained and ill-prepared as the numerous stories suggest, we’re much better off having experienced soldiers and police officers taking their place.


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