Skip to main content

Olympics (Security)

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

Since I updated the House on Olympic security last week, there have been several allegations in the media, and I want to deal with each of them.

First, it was reported that Ministers knew there would be a shortfall in security staff last year. This is untrue. Last September, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reported, at my request, on the security preparations by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, and it recommended several measures. HMIC reported again in February and concluded that LOCOG had plans in place to deliver the required number of security personnel. Neither HMIC report identified specific problems with G4S scheduling.

Secondly, it was reported that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who is the Minister for crime and security, had attended meetings in which he was told there was a security staff shortage. In fact, G4S repeatedly assured us that it would overshoot its targets. As I told the House on Thursday, G4S told the Government that it would be unable to meet its contractual obligations only last Wednesday, and we took immediate action.

Thirdly, it was reported that we must have known about the shortfall because the military was put on standby in April. This is also not the case. In fact, 7,500 troops have been part of the security plans since December, a further 1,000 were on standby in the event of flooding or other such civil emergencies, and we placed a further 2,000 on standby as a precaution in case the threat level increased. The 3,500 troops whose deployment I announced last Thursday are a direct response to the failure of G4S to meet its contractual obligations. A further contingency will remain.

The Government have strengthened the oversight of the security planning operation since we came into office. I will go through briefly what has happened since the bid for the games in 2005. From the beginning, the organisers planned to use private sector personnel for venue security. LOCOG confirmed that it would be using private sector security personnel well before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It started the procurement process for security personnel in April 2010.

When we entered government in May 2010, we instigated a comprehensive review of Olympics safety and security planning, overseen by the then Security Minister, Baroness Neville-Jones. That audit and review identified a shortfall in LOCOG’s venue security budget, which we addressed in the comprehensive spending review.

We recognised that, with a project of this size and scale, even that additional funding might not ensure the level of security that we needed, so I asked for outside assurance of LOCOG’s venue security planning. In September 2011, I commissioned HMIC to carry out an inspection of LOCOG’s venue security plans. As I have said, that led to several recommendations that were acted on by the Home Office, the police and LOCOG.

LOCOG and the Home Office monitored delivery throughout the following months. G4S assured LOCOG and the Government continually that it would be able to deliver its contractual obligations. However, on Wednesday 11 July, following the difficulties with scheduling that the company has acknowledged, G4S notified LOCOG and the Government that it would not be able to provide the numbers of security personnel specified in its contract. I want to be clear that that was the first time that G4S admitted to any Minister that it would not be able to deliver the numbers of security personnel that it had promised.

We acted immediately to make further contingency arrangements by agreeing the deployment of 3,500 further troops. That brings the total military contribution to the games to 17,000, including personnel from all three services.

G4S has failed to deliver its contractual obligations, but we have the finest military personnel in the world—troops who are willing, ready and able to step in when their country calls—and we can be sure of their professionalism in helping to deliver a secure and safe Olympic games.

Everyone wants the games to be an outstanding success. After the G4S shambles, we need things to be back on track and the Home Secretary needs to show that she is sorting it out.

First, will the Home Secretary tell us precisely how many people she now expects G4S to provide? It was contracted to provide 17,000, it now says that it will be 13,000, but it has admitted that the vast majority of those are still in process. Today, we learned that only a third of the expected G4S staff turned up to lock down a venue in Manchester and that the police had to do it instead. The monitoring has failed once spectacularly and the Home Secretary has failed to assess the numbers once before. Will she now tell us how many staff she believes G4S will provide?

Secondly, the Home Secretary told us on Thursday that 3,500 extra troops would be sufficient to fill the gap. If G4S fails to deliver the full 13,000 people it now promises, will those troops be enough? If more troops and police will be needed, she should say so now and not let this drift. The troops and the police will do an excellent job, but they need to be able to prepare.

Thirdly, the London Mayor said this morning:

“Everybody that was organising the Olympics knew this was coming up…ages ago.”

The deputy mayor said:

“This issue was flagged up repeatedly by both the Metropolitan Police Authority and subsequently the Mayor’s Office…for more than a year to G4S directly, the Olympic Security Board, and the Home Office.”

Even G4S says that it has been discussing the detailed shortfall for “eight or nine days”. And yet, last Monday, the Home Secretary told the House that she was

“confident that our partners will deliver”.—[Official Report, 9 July 2012; Vol. 548, c. 9.]

It is incomprehensible that the monitoring was that poor that no one told her until Wednesday. How on earth could the Minister responsible for delivering Olympics security be the only person who did not know? When was she first told that there was a problem with G4S?

We need to know why the Home Secretary has failed on this, because we need to have the confidence that she understands what went wrong and is competent to sort the problem out now, so that everyone can get on and make the Olympics a great success.

I will respond to the various points that the shadow Home Secretary has raised. She asked what the numbers look like. The revised solution of more than 23,000 personnel that was decided on at the end of last year was made up of 10,400 G4S guards, 7,500 military at peak, up to 3,000 Bridging the Gap, up to 3,000 volunteers and up to 2,000 incumbents that—

The very first figures that I gave were 10,400 G4S guards, 7,500 military, 3,000 Bridging the Gap, up to 3,000 volunteers and up to 2,000 incumbent security suppliers at existing venues. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) asks, “Bridging what gap?” Bridging the Gap is the name of a programme under which students and others can get employment.

The shadow Home Secretary says that we need to get a grip, but that is precisely what we have been doing. When we came to office, we made an immediate security audit, increased the budget and revised the plans. I have commissioned several reports on Olympic preparedness, each of which has led to a refinement of the plans. When G4S told us last Wednesday that it would be unable to deliver its contractual obligations, we decided to deploy extra military personnel to fill the gap.

The right hon. Lady asked why the situation was not known about earlier. I have explained that we commissioned reports on G4S’s preparedness, which contained recommendations on which LOCOG, the Home Office and the police acted, but those reports all made it clear that subject to acting on those recommendations, LOCOG was on track to deliver the necessary security personnel. Last Wednesday, G4S told us that it would be unable to deliver its obligations.

The shadow Home Secretary asked about timing. On Friday 6 July the managing director of G4S Global Events told Reuters:

“We are delivering a London Olympics now. If there was a similar event going on in Australia, I would be bullish that we could deliver that at the same time.”

I suggest that the right hon. Lady listens to the comments of some of her colleagues. Lord West has said:

“I don’t think it will affect the security of the games. That’s been taken care of. The Government have sorted that out, because the military are in there.”

The shadow Olympics spokesman has said:

“The important thing now is to focus on the solutions.”

I suggest that the shadow Home Secretary listens to her colleagues.

Can the Home Secretary confirm that any costs associated with the additional measures will be met by G4S, not the taxpayer?

I can confirm that G4S has made it clear that it will meet any additional police or military costs.

I thank the Home Secretary for agreeing to appear before the Home Affairs Committee as soon as the Olympic and Paralympic games are over.

May I take the Home Secretary back to the HMIC report? Is she telling the House that G4S was made aware of the contents of the report prepared by Sir Denis O’Connor? There were four copies of that report, and one went to Charles Farr, who chaired the Olympic security board. If G4S was aware that there were shortcomings, it ought really to have put them right before last Wednesday.

The HMIC report was on LOCOG’s security planning capabilities. It was a not a review of G4S. It outlined a number of steps that LOCOG needed to take to plan and manage the delivery of the venue security responsibilities. That predated the decision to increase the number of venue security personnel. A further report was commissioned from HMIC in February, and it said that it was reassured that LOCOG had plans in place to resolve any issue expeditiously. Issues were raised in those reports, but all those who were required to act on them did so.

Will the Home Secretary investigate claims that existing G4S staff in other parts of the country have been given the opportunity to fill Olympic security posts only if they take annual leave, despite the massive shortage?

My hon. Friend raises an issue that has not previously been raised with me. I will look into it, but it is of course for G4S to decide how it will provide the numbers. It has had significant difficulties in scheduling both existing staff and the new staff that it is bringing in, but I have noted his point.

Given the scale of the shortfall between what G4S contracted to provide and what it is now providing, which must have been obvious upon inquiry, is the Home Secretary saying that G4S was guilty of wilful deception of HMIC, or was there some failure in the monitoring of what G4S was doing?

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman looks at some of the comments that G4S has made about its situation. It may be of interest to the House to know that the accreditation process has accredited more than 20,000 G4S personnel. The problem for G4S has been allocating personnel to particular venue security tasks through its scheduling programme. It was when it examined that situation and saw the difficulties it was having that it came to the Government last Wednesday and said that it could not meet its full contractual obligation.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no members of the armed forces involved in the deployment will lose their annual entitlement to leave or be left out of pocket?

I can confirm that absolutely. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed that in Defence questions.

We have the finest armed forces in the world, and they will step into the breach most admirably. The lateness of the decision, however, will add considerably to their discomfort and the burden that is placed on them. Given the size of the gap, there must have been a failure of monitoring or deliberate deceit—one or the other—for such a gap to exist so late in the process.

The right hon. Gentleman fails to appreciate the fact that it was at a stage fairly close to the beginning of the Olympic games that G4S began to schedule staff to particular venue security duties. It was when it began doing so that it discovered that it had a problem with the numbers. That is what G4S has absolutely made clear. I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman what I have just said: in fact, we have accredited over 20,000 G4S personnel. The issue was getting staff to the venue security task, and it was right that G4S came to us at the point that it did and said that it was not going to be able to fulfil the personnel numbers, which is why we have asked for the contingency from the military.

So that we can see the full picture, will my right hon. Friend tell us exactly when in the preparations for the games that it was decided that the contract for security would be between LOCOG and G4S, and what was the ministerial input at the time into that decision?

The decision that the contract would be between LOCOG and a private sector contractor was taken under the previous Government, and I am not party to the discussions that took place.

The Secretary of State has said on more than one occasion that G4S deliberately deceived the Government. If that is the case in a £300 million contract, will it be allowed to tender for any further private contracts with the Government in future?

A number of Members have hinted at the issue of deceit. G4S did not deceive the Government: it assured us that it could deliver—

Well, there is a very great difference, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that difference. When G4S recognised that it was having difficulty scheduling and getting sufficient staff numbers to the posts for which they were required it came to the Government and said that it could not deliver the numbers that it thought it could.

As we speak and as the House meets, athletes from all over the world are arriving at Heathrow to take part in one of the world’s greatest athletic gatherings. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the things that undermines national security is petty point scoring and hysterical opposition, talking the games down?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are on course to deliver a safe and secure games that everyone will enjoy. We have had good cross-party support until now for the delivery of the Olympic games, and it is a pity that that has not continued under the shadow Home Secretary.

In view of the discrepancy between the account that the Home Secretary has given the House this afternoon and reports from HMIC, the Mayor of London’s office and G4S, will she publish all the relevant contacts that she had with all those bodies so that we can judge for ourselves?

The right hon. Gentleman has made an assumption about differences in statements that have been made. I have explained: if he looks at what G4S has been saying, it made it clear that it realised only recently that it was not going to be able to deliver. It rightly, as a company, put its hand up and said, “We did have problems; it was our mistake.” As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), it is willing to provide funding to cover the extra costs that will be incurred. The right hon. Gentleman referred to other comments that have been made. I dealt with some of those in my statement.

Notwithstanding the abysmal failure of G4S to date, is it the intention once the games have begun that G4S will continue to recruit, train and schedule its security staff to Olympic venues, enabling some of our troops to go home early?

It is certainly the case that G4S will continue to provide staff at Olympic venues. Crucially, of course, it will also provide staff for the Paralympics. It will still make a significant contribution to venue security at the Olympic and Paralympic games. There will be more military personnel, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, they have already been informed that they will undertake these duties.

Can the Home Secretary tell us anything about the incident on Tyneside last Saturday, when 58 employees of G4S were supposed to turn up for work, but 10 actually turned up and the shortfall was made up by the Northumbria police? Will she confirm that Northumbria police will be fully compensated for its costs, and if she cannot tell us anything now, will she investigate the incident further and report back to us?

The example that the right hon. Gentleman has quoted—another example is going across the broadcasts today about the Manchester area—is an exact example of the problem that G4S encountered. In encountering that problem, it identified the fact that it would not be able to provide the security personnel. As to the costs to the police, G4S has stated that it will ensure that it covers the costs for the police and the military, but if the right hon. Gentleman would like me to write to him with more detail, I would be happy to do so.

Will the Home Secretary reassure the House and people who live in areas such as my Epping Forest constituency, which is close to the Olympic park, hosts an Olympic venue and, indeed, a Ministry of Defence security site, that the normal levels of policing and security that are necessary at this time will not be adversely affected by the current situation?

Of course all parties involved have been working to ensure that the security that is provided is the security that is needed for the Olympic games. That is what is being put in place, and that is why we took the contingency arrangements we did in immediately calling in those 3,500 troops to ensure that we could maintain the levels of security we require.

It is inconceivable that the Cabinet Committee that was overlooking this matter did not spot this—or was it that it believed its own mantra: “public sector bad; private sector good”? Who is on this Committee?

The hon. Gentleman says that the Cabinet Committee should have spotted this, but G4S spotted it only in the last few days. That is what is absolutely clear and that is what G4S has admitted.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the failings of G4S will not cost any extra to the public purse in the running of the games?

Obviously, there is a contract between the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and G4S. There are penalties in it, and it is for LOCOG to deal with, but G4S is on record as saying that it will cover the extra costs of the military and the police.

Could it be the unanimous wish of this House that the British participants in the games do far, far better than the shambles we are now discussing?

I am sure it is the unanimous wish of this House that British participants in the games are going to do extremely well, that we will have a good medal haul and that Members like myself will have constituents who are medal hopefuls—and I wish them every good luck in their competitive events.

My right hon. Friend has outlined the checks and inspections that she rightly had in place, but does she not suspect that G4S is, perhaps at the very least, hiding the scale of the problem and has been doing so for some time?

No, I would say that G4S came forward and made a statement to the Government that it would not be able to provide the numbers required. It would have been easy for G4S to carry on saying, “We will provide the required numbers”—but it did not; it recognised that it could not and at that point it came to the Government and we took the necessary action.

On 14 December, the chief civil servant in the Home Office gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, assuring us that everything was fine with the G4S contract. We now hear from G4S that 9,000 people are still being processed. Does the Home Secretary share her senior civil servant’s confidence now?

I explained this on a number of occasions last Thursday and this afternoon. There was a rolling programme for G4S for recruiting individuals and taking them through the training and accreditation process. G4S repeatedly assured us that it was going to overshoot rather than undershoot its target. It came forward and said it could not meet its contractual obligations only last Wednesday.

The contract is between LOCOG and G4S. What does this situation tell us about LOCOG and its effectiveness in monitoring what is happening?

The contract is obviously between LOCOG and G4S, but LOCOG has been party to discussions over time as we have been revising the numbers required, as all hon. Members know. The HMIC report that I commissioned last year was into LOCOG’s arrangements. LOCOG responded to that and made changes as necessary.

Hundreds of West Midlands police officers have been asked to stand in for G4S because its security guards have simply not turned up. The public have confidence in our police service but no confidence in G4S, yet the Home Secretary has spent £4 million promoting privatisation of essential police services, the principal beneficiary of which would be G4S. In the light of the Olympics debacle, will she now abandon her reckless plans?

It is not a reckless plan for police forces to look to ensure that they make the best use of their budgets, so that they can put as much money as possible not into back-office functions, but into getting police out on the streets.

The Home Secretary should have a gold medal for the speed at which she has corrected this problem. Why exactly cannot the 20,000 people whom G4S has recruited be employed? Are people just saying that they are not going to go to work?

There are a number of things, the first of which is the scheduling problems that G4S has had. Some individuals will now say, for a number of reasons, that they do not wish to take up the work. However, the problem was identified only in the past few days, leading to the decision by G4S last Wednesday, when it told us it could not meet its requirements.

There is a similar problem in Salford—not Manchester—to the ones described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). Athletes in a hotel in Salford are now being protected by our local police force rather than by G4S. Will our police continue to be overstretched in that way on an ongoing basis? When will they be helped? When will the Home Secretary accept that G4S is clearly not fit for purpose?

Some police forces have put extra personnel on certain venues as a result of what has happened. Hon. Members have made a number of comments about our wonderful military personnel, but we should also recognise that we have the best police force in the world. There are meticulous plans for the policing of the Olympic games and I have every confidence that our police will do an excellent job.

I understand the political difficulty of issuing a warning order earlier in the year, putting troops on standby for an increase in the threat or for a situation such as this. However, surely it was the right thing to do, not just for the safety of our citizens, but also to enable our armed forces better to plan their R and R and training obligations.

My hon. Friend, with her knowledge of the armed forces, makes a very important point. It is in the interest of our armed forces for us to give them sufficient notice of contingency arrangements. We have had to move on the 3,500 extra troops because of the lateness of the point at which G4S admitted to us that it was unable to meet its personnel needs. On the various other requirements, we have been able to give the notice to which she refers.

We are continuing to accredit personnel for G4S and it continues to schedule personnel for the Olympic games. The precise balance of the numbers it will provide will become clear over the next few days—[Interruption.] I suggest that Opposition Members should actually look at G4S’s statements on how it is dealing with the issue and on what the problem is. The suggestion that this is a problem for the Government is not the case.

When G4S makes a colossal error such as this, the Army and the police step in to provide cover, which is effectively a form of insurance on the contract. What steps were taken when the contract was issued to ensure a level playing field between G4S and other private or public sector providers, and what steps will the Home Secretary take to ensure a level playing field in future?

LOCOG undertook a process of inviting bids for the contract, as a result of which it decided that G4S was the contractor it wished to employ and there is a contract between LOCOG and G4S. We have asked the military to increase the numbers it is making available so that we can provide for the security of the Olympic games and reassure people that our plans for a safe and secure games are in place and that the gap that has opened up will be covered by those military personnel.

The shadow Home Secretary clearly asked the Home Secretary to respond to comments in tonight’s Evening Standard from the Mayor of London and his deputy for policing that everyone knew about this ages ago. The Home Secretary declined to do so. Will she now say why, if the Greater London authority and the police authority knew about the problems, she did not?

I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that all parties who were involved in preparations for the Olympic games have been working to monitor the arrangements for security and to monitor G4S, and last Wednesday—[Interruption.] On 6 July, G4S made clear its confidence in its plan, and last Wednesday, on 11 July, it said that it could not meet the numbers that it was required to provide. We have taken action to ensure that we provide the safe and secure games that I hope everybody in this House wants this country to have.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that one group that has met its target is the reserve forces, more than 2,100 of whom have volunteered?

I am very pleased to confirm that. We have not just the finest regular military forces in the world, but wonderful reservists, who are willing to step up to the plate—including, of course, some in this House as well. I gather that 2,100 reservists have volunteered for the Olympic games. I pay tribute to them and to the work they will be doing.

Given that the police, as well as the troops, are having to step in and bridge the gap, will the Home Secretary provide us, as Parliament goes into recess, with the numbers of policemen and women in forces around the country who are having to be moved to guard Olympic venues and hotels? It is selling the police short.

The hon. Lady talks as though there was never any suggestion that the police would be involved in security provision for the Olympics. That is not the case: the police have always been part of the security for the Olympics, as has the military. Yes, the police are taking on some extra requirements, as is the military. We all have one aim, and that is to provide a safe and secure games that everybody can enjoy.

Does the Home Secretary agree that a degree of humility on the part of the Opposition is appropriate, as it was Labour’s plans that deliberately downplayed the involvement of the armed forces in the first place? Our armed forces were required then and they are required now. They are among our very best ambassadors and will add materially to the quality of our Olympic games.

As I noted earlier, the decision that LOCOG would have a contract with a private sector contractor was taken under the last Government. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to the quality of our armed forces. I have every confidence that they will not only do a good job, but do so in a spirit that ensures that everybody coming to the games can enjoy them as a sporting event.

Order. I thank the Home Secretary and colleagues, whose succinctness enabled 29 Back Benchers to question the Home Secretary in the 22 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time available. It shows what we can do when we put our minds to it.