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London 2012: May defends Games security plans

Category: England

Published: 16th Jul 2012 15:51:46

Allegations ministers knew of a shortfall in Olympic security in 2011 are "untrue", Theresa May has told MPs.

Addressing the Commons, the Home Security said it was only discovered on Wednesday - 16 days before the Games begin - that contractor G4S did not have enough trained security staff.

Labour earlier said ministers should have known what was going on.

It comes after the news 3,500 extra servicemen would be needed for security duties.

It also emerged on Monday that police had to deploy extra officers from nine UK forces to do Olympic security work.

Yvette Cooper MP, the shadow home secretary, was granted the right to table an urgent question on "security arrangements for the Olympic Games in light of the inability of G4S to deliver its contract".

Meanwhile, athletes and officials are arriving at the Olympic Village, with Heathrow Airport experiencing its busiest day on record, and the first priority "Games Lane" in operation.

Last week, the government said it was deploying 3,500 extra troops to cover the shortfall, after private security firm G4S failed to recruit enough guards for the Games.

G4S was contracted by the London 2012 Organising Committee to supply 10,400 staff out of the 23,700 security staff needed for the Games.

In her statement to MPs, Mrs May said: "G4S repeatedly assured us they would overshoot their targets."

Prime Minister David Cameron earlier said the government had been monitoring potential Olympic problems since it took power.

On Monday, Greater Manchester Police Authority revealed the force had to deploy front-line officers to provide security at an Olympic team hotel in Salford - after only 17 of an expected 56 G4S staff turned up for work.

"At no point was there a failure to provide security for the athletes," said Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney.

"Extra policing resources have had to be called in but there has been a minimal impact on policing the local communities that we serve on a daily basis."

G4S said the situation was "being rectified over the coming days, which should lead to the withdrawal of police from those roles assigned to private security".

The prime ministers' official spokesman refused to be drawn on when David Cameron was aware of G4S's Olympic recruitment failings, but said he was involved in the decision to deploy extra soldiers.

On the issue of the cost of the unscheduled call-up to the armed forces, the prime minister's spokesman said: "We are very keen to make sure absolutely no one loses out.

"G4S have been clear they will meet the costs."

Home Secretary Theresa May told the Commons last week that there were penalties written into the G4S contract but did not give details.

Shares in G4S have fallen 9% after the firm said it faced a potential £50m loss on the contract for the Games.

Responding to Monday's shortfall in staff, a statement by G4S said security was being tightened at venues before "the full complement of accredited staff have been assigned".

It said: "Some venues are being supported by police in the short term, while the private security workforce is being mobilised.

"This situation is being rectified over the coming days, which should lead to the withdrawal of police from those roles assigned to private security."

The chairman of Greater Manchester Police Federation, Ian Hanson, said the situation had become "an absolute debacle".

"Those who presided on what is rapidly becoming a national disgrace should hang their heads in shame."

He added: "They've failed - they need to acknowledge that they've failed, and it's the police officers and the soldiers... who are putting the wheel back on."

Late on Friday, G4S said it faced a £35m-£50m loss on the £284m contract after failing to recruit enough security guards for the Olympics.

There is now speculation that G4S chief executive Nick Buckles could lose his job after chairman John Connolly hinted that senior heads could roll.

Mr Buckles, who has already waived his bonus, is due to appear before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday.

Over the weekend he admitted he was "bitterly disappointed" at his company's failure to meet the terms of the contract.

Stockbroker Seymour Pierce has removed its "buy" rating on the company and reduced its profits forecast by £60m. Other brokers have also downgraded the company.

Analysts are worried about the damage the scandal could do to the company's reputation.

"While the likely outcome of the Olympic contract is no doubt disappointing, our biggest concern is the impact it could have on other outsourcing contracts with the UK government, which is a sizeable (more than 20%) and growing part of its bid pipeline," said broker Panmure in a research note.

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