Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Here’s Another Great Idea – Contract Out Security for the Olympics to a Private Company

Doesn’t Everyone Want to be Protected by the Lowest Bidder

There is no stopping the advocates of privatization, the people who believe that in those rare situations where government actually has to provide services the government should use private firms rather than public resources.  The fact that some tasks need to be performed by government, or that some things like health care and public safety are too important to be given over to the lowest cost firm never stands in their way.

Now the issue of security at the London Olympic games has come to the forefront.  The security has been largely given to a private company under a contract, and that company, like all private companies has a profit motive that trumps everything else.  If the company can make more money by providing lax security and get away with it, that’s just fine. 

So it should come as no surprise to anyone but die hard advocates of privatization that things are not going all that well with the private security firm that was awarded the contract for the coming Olympics in London.

Newspaper accounts have told of recruits hired for essential security tasks at more than 100 sites — including the main Olympic stadium, which seats 80,000 — falling asleep during training sessions. Instructors for G4S, the private company that has a $440 million contract to provide 10,400 guards for the Games, have complained of facing rows of recruits who speak little or no English.

One tabloid published a photograph, which it said had been taken at a training session, that showed a young woman slumped at her desk, apparently sleeping, with a youth alongside her apparently listening to music through earphones.

The account, in The Daily Mail, told of recruits repeatedly failing to spot fake bombs and grenades during X-ray training, and clearing people through security during their training without spotting hidden weapons, in one case a 9-millimeter pistol stuffed into a “test spectator’s” sock. The paper quoted one whistle-blower, whom it described as having a military background, as saying that some of the people were poorly educated and unprepared: “Some of the people on that course you would not hire to empty a dustbin.”

Really, gosh what a surprise to find out that with a fixed price contract the private company is hiring the lowest cost, least trained, most unskilled labor.  As for the British government, well, the Home Secretary says she just found out about the problem.

Theresa May, the home secretary, who is one of the most powerful figures in Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, laid the blame on G4S and Olympic organizers who negotiated the G4S contract and said that the extent of the security mismanagement had only “crystallized” 24 hours before she reported it to the House of Commons.

but reports in the Independent, a British newspaper say otherwise.

Theresa May was last night under pressure to explain whether she could have averted the Olympics security fiasco as it emerged that the Home Office was warned 10 months ago that there were problems with the ability of G4S to provide security for the Games.

A confidential report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary was presented to Home Office ministers in September 2011, which should have raised alarm bells about the readiness of G4S.

As for the company itself, why it has issued a heartfelt apology.

G4S, which has more than 650,000 employees in 125 countries, came forward on Saturday to offer an apology for not being able to provide enough security guards. The company’s chief executive, Nick Buckles, said in an interview with the BBC that it had realized only “eight or nine days ago” — more than six months after it signed a contract calling for it to provide 13,400 guards, with 3,000 as a back-up against dropouts — that it would not be able to meet its commitments.

“We deeply regret that,” he said.

And in a surprising development the company said it really didn’t want people falling asleep in training.

Later, a company spokesman responded by e-mail to questions submitted by The New York Times that detailed the shortcomings alleged by whistle-blowers. The e-mail said the company was “working 24 hours a day to deliver on our London 2012 contract.” It said it did not tolerate people falling asleep or not paying attention during training.

which makes us all feel better.  But not too much better.  The Dismal Political Economist will be watching the Olympics, but from the comfort of the living room and the technical advantages of a large screen TV.  He has asked about security and been assured that his local government would contract with the very best to make sure his TV signal was not interrupted.

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