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UK committee concerned about Olympic security cost

By Danica Kirka
Associated Press / March 8, 2012
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LONDON—A British government oversight committee expressed doubt Friday about whether the 2012 London Olympics could stay within budget, complaining that staggering security costs will make it hard to stick to the 9.3 billion ($14.6 billion) spending plan.

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, concluded that while the Olympic venues and other infrastructure are nearly done, signs are worrying and Olympic officials would need to be more accountable for overall costs tied to the games -- including legacy projects.

Government officials have insisted the event will be on time and within budget, but with planned security costs alone exceeding 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion), those promises are increasingly under strain.

"We are particularly concerned about the significant increases in the security bill," Hodge said in a statement. The organizing committee "now needs more than twice the number of security guards it originally estimated and the costs have roughly doubled. It is staggering that the original estimates were so wrong."

The highly critical report comes three months after Britain's independent National Audit Office also concluded that the public sector funding package was "so finely balanced" that there was real risk more money will be needed.

If the pessimistic scenarios prove true, Olympic officials would be forced to bridge the shortfall by going to taxpayers, who are already facing tough economic times. The oversight committee said that funding package "does not cover the totality of the costs to the public purse of delivering the Games and their legacy, which are already heading for around 11 billion pounds ($17 billion).

The oversight report also had sharp words for organizers and the government about the legacy of the games, such as the fate of big ticket venues like the Olympic Stadium and programs to get young people involved in sports. Hodge demanded accountability and said the stadium must not become a "white elephant."

"The government is dispersing responsibility for delivering the legacy and we need clarity about who is accountable," Hodge wrote. "Given the scale of costs outside the funding package, what we need within six months of the end of the Olympics is a single auditable account covering the total costs to the public of the games and their legacy."

Security is so expensive for the Olympics because of fears of terrorism. A terror attack at the 1972 Olympics in Munich killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. London has been hit by its own terror attack: Four suicide bombers targeted the city's transit network in 2005, killing 52 commuters.

The British government is planning to identify the national terror threat as "severe" during the Olympics, meaning an attempted attack is highly likely.

Initial security reviews put the number of security guards for the games at 10,000 -- the overall security work force is now at 23,700. Thousands of soldiers are now also part of the mix to keep the July 27-Aug. 12 event safe.

Those numbers are in addition to the 12,000 police officers that will also be on duty on the busiest days of the games.

The government said the additional money was needed to make venues and other sensitive sites, such as hotels, more secure. The total cost of securing the venues has climbed to more than 553 million pounds ($862 million).

Although Britain's Home Office initially budgeted 600 million pounds ($940 million) for that, that number has been trimmed to 475 million pounds ($745 million).

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