The suspicious bill for Scotland’s biggest security operation

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By Kenneth Roy

How many security guards are there in the west of Scotland? The question is not as strange as it sounds, because the chances are that every one of them – and many more – will be needed for the big one: the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The small print of a recent Audit Scotland risk assessment of this event is revealing.  The Audit Scotland team discovered that the games’ organisers had ‘yet to identify’ what might be available in the way of professional security.

By Kenneth Roy

How many security guards are there in the west of Scotland? The question is not as strange as it sounds, because the chances are that every one of them – and many more – will be needed for the big one: the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The small print of a recent Audit Scotland risk assessment of this event is revealing. The Audit Scotland team discovered that the games’ organisers had ‘yet to identify’ what might be available in the way of professional security. The auditors believe that there are not enough security guards in the immediate area and that the organisers face ‘a big challenge’ to recruit a sufficient number from outside it. This intriguing finding only hints at the scale of the problem.

It is worth looking at the proposed security spend in the context of the total expenditure on this 10-day party. When the budget was agreed in 2008, the games were to cost £373 million. Only a year later, the figure rose by £81 million to £454 million, which meant that a single event was now costing more than the notoriously over-budget Scottish Parliament building.

But that was far from being the end of the story. At this fairly advanced stage in the planning, the organisers apparently realised that there had been no allowance for inflation. What? No explanation for this extraordinary omission has been offered, although it is possible that the organisers were at that stage distracted by problems with their chief executive, who resigned over an unspecified breach of guidelines concerning the acceptance of gifts and hospitality.

Whatever the reason, it was found necessary earlier this year to hand round the begging bowl for another £70 million. Since inflation is comparatively low, it is difficult to believe that the whole of this increase is accounted for by the rising price of materials and services. A suspicion persists that the allowance for ‘inflation’ disguises yet another actual increase in the cost of the party.

No matter: Scotland is now throwing money at this referendum year extravanganza with its potential to create the all-important ‘feel-good factor’ ahead of the vote. The spend at today’s date is estimated at £524 million, of which only £100 million (19%) will be recouped in ticket sales, sponsorship, broadcasting rights and merchandising. The rest will come in the form of public subsidy: £344 million (66%) from the Scottish taxpayers, £80 million (15%) from the council tax payers of the host city.

It is understood that Glasgow City Council intends to spend £14 million on the opening and closing ceremonies alone; and we revealed yesterday how it has approved a lavish refurb for the games’ admin HQ in a city groaning with empty office space in walk-in condition.

To summarise: these games are now costing 40% more than they did four years ago. So much for financial planning. Yet, most oddly, there is one area of expenditure which has scarcely moved. It happens to be the most important one – the cost of safeguarding the competitors and spectators and the wider public.

In 2008 the security budget was £26 million. In 2012 it is £27 million. With most other costs accelerating – the bill for the Sir Christopher Hoy velodrome, for example, has rocketed from £10.7 million to £13.2 million in the same period – we should perhaps be grateful that the organisers got the cost of the security right, if nothing else. There is, however, another possibility: that the token increase in the security budget is indicative of a lack of knowledge or a degree of complacency or both.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) regards the Commonwealth Games as ‘the biggest security operation Scotland has faced in its recent history’ and expects the National Counter-Terrorism Security Office to be heavily involved in making the event as safe as possible. We can only hope that the need for extreme vigilance is accepted by the organisers. But the disclosure that, in their preparations for an Audit Scotland investigation, they had not troubled themselves to do some elementary homework on the number of security guards they might be able to lay their hands on, fails to inspire confidence.

The experience of London 2012 is instructive. Since the bid in 2005, the cost of security at the Olympics has almost doubled – from £600 million to £1 billion. The London games are incomparably larger, the terrorist threat immeasurably greater. Still, only £27 million for Glasgow? Like so much else about these games, the figure simply doesn’t make sense.

Tomorrow: Part 3 of Fun and Games

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review