The U.K. government will deploy 3,500 extra soldiers to provide security at London Olympic venues after G4S Plc (GFS), the company with the contract to protect the games, said it won’t have enough staff available.
“As the venue security exercise has got under way, concerns have arisen about the ability of G4S to deliver the required number of guards for all the venues within the timescales available,” Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said in a written statement to Parliament today. “G4S has now agreed that it would be prudent to deploy additional military support to provide greater reassurance.”
Speaking in the House of Commons in London, Home Secretary Theresa May said there is “no question” of the Olympics being compromised by the shortfall in security personnel. “There is no specific security threat to the games,” May told lawmakers after the opposition Labour Party demanded she answer questions on the issue.
With the games set to open on July 27, the security announcement has added to concerns that the event may not run smoothly. Though London has got its venues ready well in advance and spending came in below the final budget estimate, immigration delays at Heathrow airport and last-minute repairs to the hub’s main road link are threatening to disrupt transport.
Labour’s home-affairs spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, told May the last-minute decision to deploy the extra troops, taking the total number of armed-forces personnel at the games to 17,000, “really looks like another Home Office shambles.”
May rejected Cooper’s assertion, saying “it is not a shambles when the government takes the decision necessary to provide the security necessary.”
She told lawmakers that the games organizing committee, Locog, would apply any penalties to G4S. Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters that “if they’re not meeting their obligations under the contract, there should be consequences.”
G4S fell the most in eight months in London trading today. Shares of the Crawley, southern England-based company dropped as much as 4.5 percent to 277.3 pence, the biggest decline since Nov. 17. They were down 2.9 percent at 281.9 pence at 12:03 p.m.
“This is an unprecedented and very complex security recruitment and deployment exercise which is being carried out to a very tight schedule,” G4S, the world’s largest security company, said in an e-mailed statement.
It said the company has 4,000 people at work across 100 venues and an additional 9,000 are going through the final stages of training, vetting and accreditation. The contract for the Olympics is valued at 284 million pounds ($439 million), the Guardian newspaper reported.
“We have encountered some delays in progressing applicants through the final stages but we are working extremely hard to process these as swiftly as possible,” G4S said. “We understand the government’s decision to bring in additional resources and will work with Locog, the military and other agencies to deliver a safe and secure games.”
Immigration Minister Damian Green repeated assurances today that passport checks at BAA Plc’s Heathrow hub would run more smoothly during the Olympics than they have in recent months, when arriving passengers have sometimes had to wait several hours. He said this week the airport would go into full “Olympic mode” on July 15.
“April was a bad month,” Green told the BBC today. “We have put more people in since then, progressively ramping up the numbers and during the Olympics 300 officers will be on duty at Heathrow.”
The main M4 expressway from Heathrow into the capital remains closed as engineers try to repair a bridge carrying the road through west London. That’s causing congestion as motorists are forced to switch to other routes.
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