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UK committee concerned about Olympic security cost

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The Olympic flag flutters in the wind after the Nordic Combined team competition at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games had to be cancelled due to the strong wind in Pragelato Plan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb 15, 2006. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

LONDON-- The 2012 London Olympics run a serious risk of going over budget, a British government committee warned Friday, complaining that unexpectedly staggering security costs will make it hard to stick to the 9.3 billion pound ($14.6 billion) spending plan.

While the Olympic venues and other infrastructure are nearly done, signs are worrying for delivering the games and related future programs on budget, said Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, and could potentially force Olympic officials to turn to taxpayers in already tough economic times.

Government officials have insisted the games 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," said Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, 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 high cost of the games has already sparked resentment from some Londoners angry over the expensive plans at a time the government is preaching austerity and cutting programs.

Games organizers have said that final security plans had to wait until arrangements to actually stage the games were in place. The chair of London's organizing committee, Sebastian Coe, further defended organizers, saying that planners had to work with the information that they had at the time.

"I think it will come together in a proper and orderly way and will come together at the end of project," Coe told reporters at a conference in Spain.

Britain's Department for Media Culture and Sport also vigorously rejected the report's findings, insisting that the government has more than 500 million pounds ($788,820) in funds that haven't been committed to other purposes.

"We are in a strong position and, while we can't be complacent, are confident that we can deliver the games under budget," the department's statement said.

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 a real risk more money will be needed.

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 higher figure comes in part from a dispute over whether to include the cost of purchasing Olympic Park land in the overall costs of the games. The government argues it shouldn't, because the money will be returned through land sales after the games.

The oversight report 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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