3,5000 troops are put on Olympic duty

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond (left) and Chief of Defence Staff General Sir David Richard give evidence to the Commons Defence Committee
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond (left) and Chief of Defence Staff General Sir David Richard give evidence to the Commons Defence Committee
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AN extra 3,500 military personnel will be deployed during the Olympics because of concerns G4S will not be able to provide “the required number of guards for all the venues within the timescales available”, the Defence Secretary confirmed today.

Philip Hammond admitted the move, which means 17,000 troops will now be involved in the Olympics, will impose an extra burden upon individual service men and women and their families, “especially over the summer holiday season”.

But bringing in extra military resources was “prudent” and would help ensure the safety of the Games, he said.

Mr Hammond said the deployment was “feasible and will have no adverse impact on other operations”.

He released his statement to MPs as Home Secretary Theresa May prepared to answer an urgent question over the situation in the Commons.

“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,” Mr Hammond said.

“Ministers have been monitoring this situation and, where necessary, preparing contingency measures.

“G4S has now agreed that it would be prudent to deploy additional military support to provide greater reassurance.

“The Home Secretary has therefore requested additional MoD support, and I have authorised the deployment of a further 3,500 military personnel.

“This will bring the total number of military personnel, from all three services and including reservists, contributing to the safety and security of the Games to 17,000.”

He went on: “The Chiefs of Staff recognise the importance of the Olympic Games and support this deployment, confirming that this deployment is feasible and will have no adverse impact on other operations.

“Ministers across Government recognise the burden that this additional short-notice deployment will impose upon individual service men and women and their families, especially over the summer holiday season.

“We will ensure that all those taking part receive their full leave entitlement, even if it has to be rescheduled, that no one is out of pocket due to cancelled personal arrangements and that all deployed personnel are appropriately supported.”

Mrs May told MPs she knew the country could rely on the troops to help provide a safe Games.

She added that 10,000 Olympics and Paralympics tickets had been donated to armed services through Tickets for Troops.

A further 7,000 tickets were also being made available to troops for the dress rehearsals of the opening and closing ceremonies to recognise their extra commitment.

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, told Mrs May: “G4S has let the country down and we have literally had to send in the troops.”

The Home Secretary told the Commons ministers were receiving assurances from G4S over the last few days, but the “absolute gap in the numbers was only crystallised finally yesterday”.

Asked whether there were any financial penalties for G4S, Mrs May said the firm’s contract was with organisers Locog, but she understood that it did include penalties.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the situation looked like “another Home Office shambles”, with G4S falling 25% short of its contract.

The problems come on top of long queues at Heathrow airport and other problems with border staff, Ms Cooper added.

She told Mrs May: “Please get these security problems and these border problems sorted out and stop letting everyone else down.”

Security-providers G4S admitted last night it was experiencing “some issues in relation to workforce supply and scheduling” and had accepted that the Government was turning to the military for extra help.

The move, a major embarrassment for organisers Locog, comes as Mr Hammond appears before the Commons Defence Committee to explain how the Army is to lose 17 major units - including five infantry battalions - in the biggest re-structuring of the service for decades.

The changes - to be completed by the end of the decade - will see the regular Army cut from 102,000 to 82,000 while the Territorial Army will be doubled to 30,000 to give a combined force of 112,000.

Some 17,000 troops will now be involved in the Olympics, with 11,000 of these involved in the security of more than 30 sporting venues and some 70 non-competition venues, including car parks and hotels.

Military personnel will also be involved in specialist support roles including air security, search teams, communications and logistics, among others.

Assistant commissioner Chris Allison, head of Scotland Yard’s security operation, has previously insisted the sporting event will be a “blue Games”, despite the presence of the military and surface-to-air missiles being positioned near the Olympic Park.

Overall, a 23,700-strong security force for the Games will include a mix of military, private security guards and at least 3,000 unpaid London 2012 volunteers.

A G4S spokeswoman said: “This has been an unprecedented and very complex security recruitment, training and deployment exercise which has been carried out to a tight timescale.

“We have encountered some issues in relation to workforce supply and scheduling over the last couple of weeks, but are resolving these every day and remain committed to providing a security workforce for the start of the London 2012 Games.”

She went on: “We accept that the Government has decided to overlay additional resources.

“We remain committed to keep London 2012 safe and secure.”

Mr Vaz said he was “deeply concerned” to learn G4S were “unable to deliver their £284 million contract”.

He has asked G4S chief executive Nick Buckles and its chairman Alf Duch-Pedersen to appear before the committee next week to explain why they do not have sufficient staff to provide the security.

Shares in G4S, which is the largest employer on the London Stock Exchange with more than 650,000 staff worldwide, were down 3% this morning.

In May, the firm said as many as 100,000 people had expressed interest in the 10,000 security jobs being made available at the Olympics, adding it had already interviewed more than 80,000 applicants. More were still needed, it added.

Its workforce will conduct physical searches, operate X-ray machines and carry out perimeter searches at the Games, which are expected to attract 10 million spectators.

Retired Colonel Richard Kemp, a former UK commander in Afghanistan, said the development would hit troops “very hard indeed”, with many having just returned from Afghanistan.

The armed forces would carry out the task “extremely well, extremely professionally and with a smile on their face”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding they would not regard it as trivial.

“But we shouldn’t forget also that many of these soldiers are people who have been told in the last few days that they are going to be made redundant, that their regiments are being scrapped and they are under great pressure already,” he said.

“The wider morale in the armed forces now is very fragile and this will simply add to that fragility.”

Speaking on a visit to the Olympic Park, London Mayor Boris Johnson said: “I wouldn’t say there are problems with security in the sense that everybody knows it’s going to be a safe and secure Games.

“What you’ve got is a lot of belt and braces going on in the final stages.

“Everybody is concerned to put the final nails in place - we always expected loads of military and I think they’ll do a great job.

“The key thing is that it’s going to be a safe and secure Games.”

He went on: “Go to Wimbledon, you’ll see the military doing a fantastic job of making sure everybody is safe and searched and properly looked after and we’re in the final stages of getting that ready.”