LONDON — A private contractor's planning for security at the Summer Olympics in London was "incompetent," the chairman of a British Parliament committee said Tuesday.
As athletes streamed into Heathrow Airport for next week's start of the Games, lawmakers quizzed G4S security's Chief Executive Nick Buckles over his company’s last-minute failure to provide over 10,000 extra staff to police venues.
With controversy raging between government and disgruntled army and police officers called up to cover for the lack of trained staff which G4S was unable to provide, lawmakers asked Buckles to explain his company’s shortfall.
At times appearing uncertain and unprepared, Buckles told the committee he was “deeply disappointed” and “embarrassed” about his firm's inability to deliver on the contract. Buckles said he only became aware of the shortage of security personnel on July 3 while he was on vacation in the United States.
Ian Horseman Sewell, G4S account manager for the Olympics, appeared beside Buckles and said he was unaware of any problem until last week.
When pressed as to how many of the 10,400 staff called for last year he could provide, Buckles said it was his “expectation” that they could deliver 7,000. According to Parliament's website, G4S has a $443-million contract with the government to provide security guards, but only 4,000 guards were trained and ready as of Tuesday.
“Ten days before the Olympics you aren’t able to give a better answer?” queried committee Chairman Keith Vaz. The G4S performance was judged by the committee to be “unacceptable, incompetent and amateurish,” said Vaz.
The committee cited other recent sporting events in Britain during which many G4S security staff had failed to turn up, forcing police to cover at the last minute.
Army troops have been recruited to provide 3,500 security staff to safeguard the Games, which begin July 27. Buckles confirmed that his company would reimburse both forces and provide bonuses and accommodation expenses for military personnel who filled the gap caused by the G4S debacle.
“We clearly regret signing the contract, but now we have to deliver,” said an unhappy Buckles, who together with Horseman Sewell also told the committee G4S would forfeit its $75-million fee for failing to provide full security but would not forgo its management fee of about $85.5 million.
The Olympics contract was “a very specific massive events contract” outside its normal style of work providing private police and prison security, Buckles said. But G4S would not be bidding for future events, such as the upcoming World Cup and Olympics in Brazil.
Olympic Games Chairman Sebastian Coe assured reporters Tuesday, according the Press Assn., that his organization was up to the challenge.
“It’s really simply about the mix of security on the park. ... This is not a failure in numbers, we've got the numbers there. There's no compromise on security.”
— Janet Stobart
Photo: A British soldier does a security check Tuesday at the main entrance adjacent to Westfield Stratford City Mall at the Olympic Park in London. Credit: Stanley Chou / Getty Images