Olympic-sized gaffe puts UK privatization plans on hold for now

Two weeks before the London Olympic Games begin, a multinational, private security firm told Olympic officials that the company had hired only 4,000 of the 14,000 security staff that it said it would need to provide security at the Games, forcing  the government to order 3,500 soldiers to London to help protect fans and athletes.

The revelation that G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, would be unable to provide adequate staffing at the Games prompted the Surrey police authority to withdraw from a regional plan worth £1.5 billion to privatize some of the work done in police offices. Police officials in West Midlands said that they were postponing their decision and may withdraw altogether from the plan at a later date.

“If G4S can cut corners with the Olympics then it doesn’t bear thinking about what they will do to essential police services like (911) call handling and forensics,” said Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, a British public sector union. ” “It beggars belief that these private contractors can be seriously considered as providers of essential public services.”

It appears that G4S, which was awarded the £284 million Olympic security contract last year,  did not offer an adequate level of pay to attract a qualified workforce. The Guardian reports that many applicants lacked basic qualifications.

“There were people who couldn’t spell their own name,” a G4S employee told the Guardian. “The staff were having to help them. Most people hadn’t filled in their application forms correctly. Some didn’t know what references were and others said they didn’t have anyone who could act as a referee. The G4S people were having to prompt them, saying things like “what about your uncle?”

The Guardian also described the Games’ security situation as chaotic.  Guards working for G4S told the paper that with less than two weeks to go before the Games begin, they had not received schedules, uniforms, or training on x-ray machines.

G4S is a worldwide provider of private security services. It operates checkpoints in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the US, it provides security services at nuclear plants, hospitals, private residences, and a host of other private and public facilities. Before 2010, it was known in the US as Wackenhut.

In Israeli settlements in the West Bank of Palestine, G4S operates detention centers like the one at Ofer in Ramallah that holds political prisoners including children.

In the UK, it operates six prisons and three immigrant detention centers. Until recently, it had a contract with the government to escort deported immigrants back to their homeland.

But in 2010 a deportee named Jimmy Mubenga while still custody of G4S died after being restrained by G4S guards who were escorting him to a plane headed back to Angola. As a result of Mubenga’s death, G4S lost the deportation contract. Earlier this year, the three G4S guards were questioned by police and released on bail while prosecutors decide whether to prosecute them.

G4S’s Olympic gaffe caused unions to step up their fight against privatization Dozens of union members on Thursday rallied against privatization at a meeting of police officials in Birmingham to discuss privatization plans.

At the rally, union members expressed skepticism about a private contractors ability to provide adequate public services. “We’ve seen in the past with services being privatized we’ve seen reductions in the quality of terms and conditions of employment and usually job losses as well,” said Andre Wilkinson a Unite member at the demonstration. “We believe the police services will be a lot worse, a lot of the functions are carried out by civilians, and some of those services will be done for profit and the only way they can make profit is to reduce what they are doing.”

After the meeting was over, Surrey officials made their announcement that they would withdraw from the privatization plan, and West Midlands officials announced that they were postponing action on it and may withdraw in the future.


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