Summer Of 69
Matthew Taylor, Alan Travis, Dan Milmo and Nick Hopkins, Monday 16th July 2012 21:21
The beleaguered leadership of the global security firm G4S is facing intense pressure after it emerged that hundreds of police officers from nine forces have been drafted in to fill gaps in Olympic security after staff the company was meant to supply failed to turn up for work.
The company's share price slumped by just under 9% on Monday as its chief executive, Nick Buckles, was preparing for Tuesday's critical appearance before MPs.
The home secretary, Theresa May – who announced last week that 3,500 troops would be drafted in to cover the security shortfall left by G4S – told MPs the firm had repeatedly assured ministers it would overshoot its recruitment targets. Labour raised the prospect that more troops may be needed when the final security figures become clear in the next few days.
Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, the National Olympic security co-ordinator, said officers from Dorset, Surrey, Hertfordshire, Northumbria, South Wales, Strathclyde, West Midlands, Thames Valley and Greater Manchester had been deployed to provide security at venues in their areas.
In Manchester, police were forced to fill in after only 17 of an expected 56 G4S staff turned up for work at an Olympic team hotel in Salford at the weekend.
In the West Midlands, the regional chair of the police federation, Ian Edwards, said the force had provided 150 officers a day to cover a hotel in Warwickshire where Olympic footballers are staying.
"The worst-case scenario is that we end up having to find another 200 officers for the security at the City of Coventry stadium, and we've yet to find out what the shortfall is in Birmingham," said Edwards. "It's chaos, absolute chaos. 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."
Clive Chamberlain, chairman of Dorset Police Federation, said that although the army had covered for the majority of the shortfall so far, police officers were now being dragged in to fill the gaps.
"On a daily basis it's a lottery as to how many staff are going to turn up. The best they've managed is 15% not turning up, and on the worst occasions they have been 59% down. It's a fiasco, it's an absolute debacle."
May said the "precise balance of numbers" for Olympic security would not become clear for a few days, adding that G4S had 20,000 accredited security guards but had struggled to get them to different venues at the right time.
The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told Newsnight that the government had contingency plans in place in case G4S failed to deliver on the reduced security service it said it was able to provide. He said: "We've been in constant touch with G4S management and we hope they will play a very important role, but have contingency plans in place."
G4S has acknowledged it stands to lose £50m on the contract, and Buckles has admitted his position is under threat in advance of the grilling by MPs on the home affairs select committee.
In a statement G4S said: "Some venues are being supported by police in the short-term while the private security workforce is being mobilised. This situation is being rectified over the coming days, which should lead to the withdrawal of police from those roles assigned to private security."
The company said it had accredited more than 20,000 people. "Recruiting staff for the Games has never been an issue – we received over 100,000 applications and have accredited over 20,000 people," the statement said. "However, as the Games got closer, we have been encountering problems with scheduling, in part exacerbated by staff not turning up for shifts. Clearly this is extremely disappointing, particularly for the thousands of people we had to turn down for positions.
"We are working flat-out to address this issue, but for the time being we are extremely grateful to the police and the armed forces for stepping in where needed."
Kevin Lapwood, a Seymour Pierce analyst, said: "It appears certain that CEO Nick Buckles, who is due to appear before MPs on Tuesday, will fall on the sword along with other senior UK management. This could lead to a period of instability at the company, which appointed a new chairman just over a month ago."
If Buckles does lose his job he will be entitled to £20m in pay and benefits, although the final sum is still subject to revision as a chunk of the potential pay-off consists of performance-related shares, which are subject to a clawback policy.
The Olympics minister, Hugh Robertson, said on Monday that Buckles should keep his job "for now". Asked if the G4S boss should resign, Robertson said: "No, not at the moment. G4S remain an integral part of the security plan. The last thing we want is a loss of leadership."
Robertson said he believed the crisis over security had bottomed out and, pressed by members of the foreign media who have arrived in London in large numbers to cover the games, he denied the situation was a "national embarrassment".
"There is a scale from mild embarrassment to complete disaster and this isn't significantly embarrassing," he said.
The army will provide at least 3,500 soldiers to cover the shortfall on G4S's £284m contract and the MoD made clear that it could probably provide more military personnel if needed. However, officials said it had not been asked to add to the troop deployment announced last week.
G4S has promised to meet all the extra police and military costs including the bill for sending officers to cover for G4S staff failing to turn up for work.
It is understood the company has also offered to pay a cash bonus to anyone in the military called up late, but commanders are likely to veto the idea, and suggest the company pay for better facilities at the proposed base at the Tobacco Dock site in east London.
• This article was amended on 17 July 2012. The original said that police officers had been drafted in from nine forces across England. The nine police forces include Strathclyde and South Wales.