Reassessing the G4S Olympic security affair
03 October 2012
Security analyst Hugo Rosemont argues that the Home Office was not a marginal player in the Olympic security 'fiasco'which saw thousands of troops deployed at short notice and one private security firm taking the majority of the blame
The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has concluded that the blame for the failure to deliver the contract to supply sufficient numbers of venue security staff for the London 2012 Olympic Games lies 'firmly and solely' with private security company G4S. Following 11 July, when the company informed the authorities that it would be unable to supply all of the 10,400 officers that it was contracted for, G4S was widely criticised for the 'fiasco' and became the media's summer 'whipping boy'. However, whilst G4S cannot be excused for its major failings in relation to the contract, the suggestion that it was solely to blame for the whole affair must be questioned. The Home Office committed a substantial amount of taxpayers' money to the G4S contract and it cannot completely abdicate its responsibility.
It should be stated up front that the armed forces and the emergency services performed magnificently during London 2012. The UK delivered 'safe and secure' Games mainly because of them and the UK's Intelligence Agencies. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to everyone who played a role in resolving the G4S shortfall. However, it is not wishing to downplay the military's contributions to say that they were not completely surprising.
London's original 2004 Olympic bid document envisaged that the Ministry of Defence would support the games security operation and the authorities frequently argued that contingencies were in place. Whilst such a vast military operation for the Olympics had not originally been anticipated, nor despite its subsequent success was it desirable, this option was always on the table.
So why should anyone now doubt that G4S was solely to blame for the whole affair? Firstly, after G4S was initially contracted to provide 2,000 new personnel, amongst other services, the HASC report shows that it was only in December 2011 when it signed a 'variation of the contract' to increase the requirement of new staff on the company to 10,400 officers. Whilst the increase was being discussed with G4S from August 2011 and the company later freely agreed to the alteration - with devastating consequences, it transpired - should a lesson (not offered in the HASC report) be that it would have been better to finalise the requirement much earlier on? The circumstances leading up to December 2011 are significant because the 'delays in establishing an accurate picture of the number of staff who would be required' were not the responsibility of G4S. At a minimum, those who were responsible for venue security for the Games must have known the risks associated with a plan to recruit such a large number of additional, appropriately trained security staff at such a late stage. Whilst G4S would have been handsomely rewarded for delivering the uplift - and provided numerous assurances that it could achieve it - from this perspective it could be seen less as a villain than as a supplier seeking to fulfil a unique, risky but nationally-important contract.
Although the HASC report states that 'nobody has suggested that the delays in producing venue security plans were in any way responsible for the failure of G4S', the committee does not seem to have contemplated that in signing the alteration at such a late stage the company might have been trying to act in good faith as part of a last minute effort to meet unforeseen demand.
Secondly, it was the government, not G4S, who was ultimately accountable for the Games' security. It had provided legal 'guarantees' to the International Olympic Committee to this effect and, according to the Olympic security strategy, the Home Secretary was 'accountable for the delivery of a Safety and Security Strategy, delivery plans and the Safety and Security Programme.' That G4S is now being held solely responsible for the admittedly serious contract failure should be seen in the context of the Home Secretary's own overall accountability for London 2012 security, and the fact that it was her department that committed public money to cover the costs of a contract that at one stage was worth up to £284m. With its focus on the failure of the contract itself, and the final events leading up to it, the HASC report does not give sufficient weight to a central aspect of the Games' security governance framework and the funding arrangements for them.
There is another relevant issue - the Home Office's on-going hesitation to engage industry on security issues in a more favourable manner. The coalition government's February 2012 White Paper addressing this issue, 'National Security Through Technology', was applauded for committing to 'evaluate the potential benefits' of appointing a 'Senior Responsible Owner' to be tasked with this responsibility. Reassuringly, such an appointment is still expected later this year. Until then, however, it will remain unclear how the government intends to work with the security industry on strategic issues.
Why is this problematical? Firstly, until the appointment is made the security industry's contributions to national security and resilience will continue to draw less Home Office attention than other sectors receive from their own natural 'host' departments. Provided effective oversight and scrutiny, the new appointee would allow the department to engage with the private sector more effectively and could put a halt to the growing list of failed UK security procurements. Had the appointment been made in early 2011, when it was recommended, the Olympic security difficulties might have been overcome because the Home Office would have possessed a stronger sense of ownership for commercial matters.
Secondly, if 'every department is an economic department', as the Prime Minster argues, the Home Office should develop a strategy for growth and consider whether the ease with which it has criticised a leading global security company with a substantial UK footprint has been helpful. It could assist UK-based companies improve their share of the growing global security market to a greater extent and seek to work more closely with European partners as the EU develops an industrial policy for the security sector. It also 'owns' the government's immigration policy which has received criticism from an economic perspective.
It has been concluded that G4S was solely to blame for the Olympic security contract affair. Whilst senior executives have now resigned over the failure and the company must continue to accept full responsibility for its major role in the regrettable saga, the Home Office was not a marginal player in the 'fiasco' and the HASC should not have allowed the impression to emerge that it was. G4S may have 'only' provided 7,800 security officers at peak times during the Olympics, after a late variation to its original contract, but the episode also points towards some wider issues. Questions are on-going around accountability at the Home Office, and how the department will engage with industry and contribute to the UK's economic agenda.
Hugo Rosemont is a security analyst and doctoral student at King's College, London. This article is longer version of a speech he delivered to the Private Military and Security Research Conference at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on 28 September 2012.
HAVE YOUR SAY
03 October 2012
G4S agreed to supply 10,400 security officers for the games, that was the eventual contract and they agreed a price and said they could deliver. They failed. The legal gaurantee by the government was the reason for the contract to G4S, the government can't be held to account because G4S directors couldn't do the job and were lacking in foresight. G4S are not some little security company, they claim to be worlds largest so how could they get it so wrong! It's no good saying they provided 7,400 security guards at peak times, they agreed to the 10,400, Maybe G4S got blinded by the pound sign but they still agreed to the contract.
JC - UK
06 October 2012
As always no one organisation is to blame. G4s should not have accepted the late contract change. But anyone involved in public procurement knows that last minute changes are unwise, risky and expensive. Equally, Ministers, especially if new in post, cannot be experts in such managerial matters and must rely on civil servant advice. The overall structure for delivering Olympic security was patently inadequate ab initio. The MoD is much better at security than the Home Office ,as they proved, and should have had a greater role from the start. There is a need for a re-think about how national, homeland security is managed in future. The US chose to create a whole new department! This may not be the answer here but clearly, responsibilities need to rest where they can best be delivered.
AGS - UK
08 October 2012
The truth is money got in the way of security, G4S was not just to blame.
So was the Home Office, MoD, Police, as well as Government Minister's, both Labour and Coalition Ministers.
As well as the Mayor of London and London Assembly members, also LOCOG, basically everyone involved.
Including select committee members, who were not asking the right question, when they should have been.
Instead it was a eleventh hour panic and call out the troops to save the day, what new about that.
However, G4S will take the blame publicly, for everyone, but what will G4S get back in return, for taking the blame for the Government failures.
More public security contracts, worth how many millions of tax payers money over the next few years, so will G4S really be out of pocket in the long run?.
The major question over security being provided by either the private sector, or by the public sector, for example HM Forces and the Police, is not being addressed here.
Also with the level of defence cuts in regular armed forces personnel, the Coalition Government is push ahead with, raises the question.
If the London Games were taking place in 2016 and had not taken place in 2012, could British Armed Forces save the day in 2016 as they only just did in 2012.
Because at the present rates, the TA or RA (Reserve Army) will no where be near the Coalition Government's hope for 30,000 highly trained reserve personnel, who can deploy at short notice in high numbers (i.e. upto a Regiment) for long periods of time(six months plus), whether aboard or within the UK.
Also their civilian employers, both public and private sectors or third sector even, will allow their employee's time off to play soldiers, sailors, marines and fly boys, especially if they employ high numbers of reserve forces personnel.
Some are suggesting there should be a limited on how many employee's an organisation should allow to be members of reserve forces, one in-ten employee no more.
Which does raise the question, can or will the Coalition Governmnet defence cuts in regular forces and still to raise the numbers in reserve forces, they hope to raise.
To provide enough military personnel in a national security emergency sistuation, like the London Games and Para Games.
Then who will take the blame, another private security contractor, or Government Minister's and Civil Servants, who should be sharing the blame now with G4S Directors?.
ExRA David MC.Hughes - Blackpool, UK, Gurkha Welfare Rights Specialist
12 October 2012
G4S is the World's Largest Security Provider, A critically vital contract within UK Home Nation which the Company should have prioritised from the beginning & have Contingencies in place to deal, LOCOG inc Whitehall Ministers are not blameless either however closer monitoring & communication was a major contributing factor. The Armed Forces filed in due to the Private Sector fiasco in which 'One Single' company should never have been awarded the contract.
The UK puts on Festivals, Concerts & more importantly sports events consistently throughout the year so the expertise and experience is in the Industry so for this to have let happens unforgivable.
G4S are a national embarrassment & the arrogance of their dominance in the Industry finally caught up with them. Whether from a Service or Civilian Professional background their Corporate Greed was clear for all to see.
Charlie - M.O.D