G4S revisited

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

During the past two weeks of Olympic mania, the UK media has been unashamedly blinded by gold.

Even the most cynical of British hacks were more interested in the country’s growing medal tally than the logistical arrangements which had occupied thousands of column inches in the months leading up to the games.

But as the closing ceremony approaches, perhaps it is time to take stock of the UK’s organisational performance – specifically on security. The plans laid by games organisers and the Home Office hit a last-minute setback when it emerged only days before the event that G4S, a private contractor, would not be able to provide the promised 10,400 venue guards and the army would have to step in to cover the shortfall. At the time, the company said that it would only be able to guarantee around 5,000 guards for the start of the games, so what have they actually delivered?

G4S was proudly tweeting earlier this week that 7,500 of its staff were working at games venues and that the additional 3,500 military drafted in to make up the numbers were being withdrawn.

Things have not gone entirely smoothly, however.

Police arrested one member of G4S staff on suspicion of fraud after they were found trying to sell entry to events in Greenwich, and one source told The Guardian that untrained staff were put in charge of screening visitors.

In addition, G4S is not overwhelmingly popular at the games site. “We are the Millwall of the Olympics. We are the unpopular kids at school. Nobody seems to like us”, one beleagured guard wrote.

Problems also emerged further afield when reports broke that an 82-year-old nun had managed to break into a Tennessee nuclear facility which is protected by G4S. Not a reassuring thought for international visitors.

But it seems that perhaps the biggest critics of G4S are the armed forces, whose personnel have had to cancel holiday, rearrange months’ worth of training and re-deploy only days after touching down from foreign theatres such as Afghanistan. One member of the military I spoke to on Wednesday told me it would be no consolation at all that some army staff were able to withdraw from their games duties earlier this week, given the level of inconvenience their involvement has caused.

“The company has no clue, no clue at all, what this has meant for us”, the armed forces figure said.

What these soldiers and their seniors definitely are looking forward to is the final reckoning that will take place when the Olympics and Paralympics are over. Nick Buckles, G4S’ chief executive, and Theresa May, home secretary, are to be questioned by the Commons’ home affairs committee in September, and the defence committee will be scrutinising the fall-out too.

With the goldrush well and truly over, and the last festivities finished, one thing is clear: we’ll all be watching.