Olympic security shambles


Soldiers deployed at London Olympics site after private security company G4S fails to fulfil contract

The utter shambles surrounding security arrangements for the 2012 Olympic Games is perhaps the greatest embarrassment in the history of the event.  It’s easy to blame the hopeless Home Secretary Theresa May or her boss David Cameron: but in fact the problem goes back much further, and is best seen as the ultimate legacy of the Thatcher / Blair era.

Ever since the late 1970s British politics has been dominated by the ethos of privatisation, with the sell off of public assets (often at rock bottom prices) to benefit City speculators, and the transfer of many local and central government responsibilities to the private sector.

Hand in hand with this process has been mass immigration, since private companies tore up previous working practices and sought the cheapest possible workers, which usually meant immigrants.

Now we see the ultimate result of this process.  The private security firm G4S (a 2004 merger of the long-established companies Group 4 and Securicor) has admitted that it is not capable of fulfilling its contract to provide Olympic security, so Army and Police units have had to be drafted in at the very last minute!

The growth of G4S is itself evidence of how privatised security has become one of the Western world’s few expanding industries.  G4S is now the third largest private sector employer in the world, with more than 650,000 workers, beaten only by supermarket giant Walmart and the Taiwan-based electronics conglomerate Foxconn.

Only a few years ago, most people would assume that private security firms were for jobs such as taking cash to and from banks, or protecting offices and building sites from burglars or vandals.  Then during the early 1990s the Conservative government of John Major gave Group 4 contracts to provide prison security – leading to a series of embarrassing scandals when prisoners escaped.  The company also owns the American private security firm Wackenhut, which handles a number of high-security contracts, for example at military and nuclear power sites.

Even for such a large company, the Olympic security contract was a big operation – G4S was contracted to provide more than 10,000 security guards – and once again it has been proved that security and the profit motive don’t mix.  The G4S chief executive Nick Buckles has admitted that many of his guards will not even speak English.  As it turns out matters are even worse than that.  Many of the guards supposedly recruited by G4s have simply not turned up for work.  Many hundreds – perhaps thousands – of police and soldiers will have to be moved in to plug the gap.

One police spokesman describes the situation as “absolute chaos”, and correctly points out: “You shouldn’t lose your local police officer because of the Olympics.  Communities are suffering because a private company has failed to deliver on a contract.”

The Olympic security shambles should mean the end of the privatisation era.  Of course private companies will often need to be brought in to handle various public tasks, but overall control of operations should always be in the hands of accountable public bodies.

Above all, it should be made very clear from now on that policing and prison service responsibilities should remain with properly trained officers.

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