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The Olympic Games baton has passed to the police - July-16-12
Source: The Telegraph (John Yates)
Nick Buckles, the chief executive of G4S, will not be relishing his appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee this week. Its chairman, Keith Vaz, appears to take almost perverse pleasure in summoning public figures for questioning once the damaging facts have already been placed in the public domain.
In this case the phrase "shooting fish in a barrel" comes to mind, and the book down the back of Mr Buckles's trousers had better be thick. Contrition and apology may not be enough and, if the news stories about the absence of proper preparation by G4S are to be believed, the knives are going to be further sharpened and his immediate future will begin to look pretty bleak.
The real winners in this particular Olympic sport are not, as would normally be the case, G4S's competitors. The likes of Serco and others will be wincing at the public confidence hit that their collective global and highly profitable industry is going to take as a result of this affair. Certain police forces that were about to sign extensive outsourcing contracts of large chunks of their business to this sector have already put negotiations on hold. Watching the G4S Olympic debacle will only make them retreat still further and be more likely to abandon the plans completely.
No, the real winner is British policing, and at the moment and at every level they are playing a blinder. Privately, I have no doubt the police are furious about the situation they have been put in, but the trick now is to put anger aside; not look smug, but just get on and deliver a safe and secure Olympics for a grateful nation.
The signs are already good. A Police Federation that would normally waste little time in exploiting this situation for short-term gains, expressing horror and outrage at G4S's incompetence, is now mostly shrugging its shoulders, avoiding the "I told you so" line and saying that they, as professionals, will just get on and deliver. Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, who without any fanfare is doing a brilliant job as the police Olympic security lead, has already put together a plan to cover the shortfall, and has put out a soothing, non-alarmist media statement to that effect.
So, a police service that certain parts of the Government and commentators would have us believe is a bastion of self-interest and where flexible working practices are anathema, suddenly finds itself in a no-lose situation, where the exact opposite is demonstrably the case.
In some quarters there will be concerns that the supposed "blue Games" is suddenly, as a result of the increased military presence, going to turn all khaki. I don't really buy that. The military was always going to play a supporting role. The fact that there are now to be more soldiers is to be welcomed, though it is most unfortunate if it disrupts their well-earned leave. The military has played a significant role in the security at Wimbledon for years and its presence has always added to the sense of occasion. The choice of a searching and guarding regime undertaken by an experienced and well-trained soldier over a student who may have glimpsed some training material from the back of a classroom with 200 people in it is not a difficult one.
What is much more important is who, from a security perspective, is now in charge. From this point on, it clearly must be the police, supported of course by close colleagues in the security services. The Olympic organising committee, the Home Office and the senior officials within can no longer call the shots around security. Any reassuring messages from any of these bodies will now be a waste of their collective breath.
What is now required is for these parties to switch to active listening mode. If the police make a bid for additional resources, then the usual sharp intakes of breath and bureaucracy must be replaced by an urgent and immediate willingness to make things happen. One can only hope that sense prevails and this indeed becomes the case. There isn't a Plan B.
The media will continue to do their level best to hype up the sense of doom and panic. This, after all, is the arena of their very own Olympic sport - taking lumps out of an apparently big British success story (G4S) with a flamboyant, well-paid chief executive at its helm. From the police though, there must not be a whiff of panic in the air, only the strong message of "you can rely on us" coming through loud and clear.
Come the autumn, when the latest round of austerity cuts for the police are being considered, and when the newly installed Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, is opening the file marked "outdated organisation - reform proposals", who knows, there might just be a momentary pause for reflection. British policing is not perfect, not by any means, but come the big occasion, it always delivers. In recent days the only surprise is that we haven't seen policemen manning the immigration desks at Heathrow or mixing new concrete to pour into the holes in the flyover on the M4.
John Yates is a former UK head of counter-terrorism
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