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Security cost is London 2012's biggest unknown

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David Bond | 16:49 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The final bill for security during the Olympic Games will probably not be known until long after the flame at Stratford has gone out.

One number we can be certain of is £1.265bn. That is the amount of money spent and budgeted for to secure the London 2012 Games since 2007.

That figure includes:

£475m for policing and wider security, which was reduced from £600m in 2010 following a review by Dame Pauline Neville Jones.

£282m for venue security. This is the element of the budget which is currently subject to a review, more of which in a moment.

£270m for securing the Olympic Park during construction.

£238m for security contingency.

General view of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford

Security has always been one of the biggest challenges for London 2012 - photo: Press Association.

The overall number will rise significantly when ministers sign off a major review of venue security next week.

But organisers and government officials say there is more than enough cash in the contingency pot to cover it.

That is certainly true. According to the last quarterly report published by the Government Olympic Executive which covers the three months to the end of June 2011, there was £643.5m available for overspend.

To be clear, that includes the £125m for security handed back by the Home Office following the work carried out by Dame Neville Jones and the £238m for security contingency.

Estimates for the final cost of venue security are hard to pin down at this stage.

In September it was forecast that the final number of security personnel needed would rise from 10,000 (London 2012's original estimate) to more than 22,000.

The cost of paying for that 12,000 increase could be anywhere between £100m to £200m depending on where the staff are recruited from.

Again, back in September, the plan was to use 7,500 volunteers and 5,000 military personnel.

Government sources have told me that the numbers are changing all the time and it is difficult to be certain what the final cost will be.

All of which suggests there is still some almighty haggling going on between government departments to resolve this issue. But if there is enough money in the contingency pot, why the debate?

Might this have something to do with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond's sudden announcement in the House of Commons on Monday that ground-to-air missiles would be deployed if deemed necessary to safeguard London during the Olympics?

Or was Hammond just responding to the Guardian newspaper's story on Monday that the Americans are unhappy with Britain's security planning.
Perhaps it was all just designed to reaasure us that with a review under way and the first of what will surely be a series of security scare stories, the Games will not bring chaos and terror to the streets of London next summer.

It was a theme the London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton picked up on when questioned by MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday.

Deflecting criticism for getting the original estimate wrong in the first place, Deighton claimed we should all take comfort from the fact that the numbers were going up because it showed just how detailed the plans now were.

In that case should we be worried about the plans that have not changed much over the last few years? Are they subject to less detailed planning?

The fact is that while security will always be a highly emotive - and newsworthy - subject being definitive on costings or the exact nature of the threat is extremely difficult.

When Athens won the 2004 Games back in 1997 did they think they would become the first summer Games to be staged following the biggest terrorist atrocity in history? The Greek security bill rocketed because of 9/11.

That it passed peacefully should not lull anyone into a false sense of security when it comes to the Olympics. Previous Games - Munich in 1972 and Atlanta in 1996 mosty notably - proved that they are a magnet for all sorts of extremists, nutters and terrorists.

In July 2011 the Home Office downgraded the general terror threat level in the United Kingdom to "substantial" - meaning a terrorist attack is a "strong possibility".

But all that could change before the Games open on July 26.

London's organisers know the risks better than anyone. The 7/7 bombings happened a day after the city won the right to host the Games in 2005.

Security has always been one of the biggest challenges for London 2012 - but it is almost certainly the biggest unknown.


  • Comment number 1.

    Erm, "nutters"? Nice work, David. Mosty, anyway.

  • Comment number 2.

    The dictionary definition ought to read as follows: Olympics n. "massive security event at which some sport is played"

  • Comment number 3.

    I've read recently that a lot of security firms are recuirting former Gurkhas, as they know how to handle themselves and are skilled in hand to hand combat and self-defence. Some of the firms even advertise on the former Gurkhas name badges that they are "ex-Gurkhas", because they believe it will deter people from causing trouble. I quite like these ideas, although I am aware that not everyone will take notice of a name badge, and I believe that the government should think about using something similar.

    By the way, I am not a fan of having openly armed guards at the games, unless there is a very high risk of terrorist attack. But having said that, it's almost impossible to be right in this situation. If there is an attack at the games then someone will say "the security wasn't tight enough", yet you might also have no incidents of note at the games but some people moaning that security was "too tight" after they suffered a random search.

  • Comment number 4.

    Whatever happens there will always be people that complain........ I think the 2012 organisers seem to be doing a good job so far so I'm confident that they will get the security right.

    If only one good thing can be taken from The Riots in the summer, it has to be that the police are now surely more alert to anti-social behaviour and will come down promptly and heavy handedly on any trouble makers with full public backing.

    Fingers crossed for an incident free and fantastic 2012 Olympics.

  • Comment number 5.

    Security 'costs', but when you outsource it the as the government have done the cost should have been fixed. But as per usual we just end up throwing more money at the 'potential' problem and headlines are made.

    The use of army, police etc will always be necessary to provide high profile and visible security but some how it is never enough.

  • Comment number 6.

    Maybe if we spent less time and money making enemies across the world with our unilateral short sighted foreign policy, this sort of thing wouldn't be an issue.
    Unfortunately we're now a major target for attacks and understandably so, wish our governments would learn the meaning of diplomacy

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree that the organisers seem to be doing a fantastic job, and we should get behind them to make the games a success and something we can be proud of. Security is vital to the success of these games, and there is a fantastic opportunity for anyone to be part of the security at the games by applying to be a security officer at
    Everyone should be getting behind proud of what this country can achieve and also become a part of history!

  • Comment number 8.

    Ground to air missiles ? How will the safety of a highly populated metropolis be increased by deploying ground to air missiles ? Or will they be deployed over Afghanistan / Libya / Syria in response to a perceived threat to London ?

  • Comment number 9.

    "In July 2011 the Home Office downgraded the general terror threat level in the United Kingdom to "substantial" - meaning a terrorist attack is a "strong possibility"."
    Sounds like Britain has a foreign policy problem, not a security problem. Far cheaper to address the causes than waste money minimising symptons. "Security" throughout the capiltalist world has become a new societal neurosis - surveillance cameras and moronic thugs "securing" pubs and entertainment venues (against their customers ?), walls around housing estates, Olympic games defended by the missiles of the local navy... what all they all afraid of ? The barbarians climbing over the walls to take what's theirs ? Solution : negotiate with the barbarians, it's cheaper.

  • Comment number 10.

    If the Americans are unhappy with the security arrangements, they don't have to come...

  • Comment number 11.

    Questionable use of the word "nutters" in that piece, David.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    agree with #10. or better still if they're unhappy they should pay the extra costs.
    i remember that the last terrorist attack on the games happened on their watch, if i'm not mistaken by a US citizen and definitely before 9/11.

    puzzled as well about how missiles will defend the games.

  • Comment number 14.

    No doubt the Americans are also unhappy with transport arrangements, the food, the water and the weather. But does anyone other than the Guardian really care about the opinion of the 1996 "Coca-cola games" hosts?

  • Comment number 15.

    Well I think I now what the definitions of extremist and terrorist are. Could you elaborate on your use of 'nutters' and what distinguishes them from the other 2 groups you identified?


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