John Glen is the Member of Parliament for Salisbury. Follow John on Twitter.
Today the House of Commons Defence Select Committee publishes its second report on the Military Covenant in Action, this time focussing on the accommodation provided for serving men and women and their families.
Evidence was taken from a number of individuals and organisations, including the Chairs of the three Service Families Federations who were extremely clear in expressing how important accommodation is to those serving and their families; over half the regular communications they receive relate to inquiries and complaints about accommodation. The Federations’ representatives were keen to explain that those families see it as “a staunch pillar of the Covenant” and it can have implications on morale, recruitment and retention.
Accommodation has been provided for service personnel and their families because of what is often the itinerant nature of their jobs. It is not unusual for families to have to move on average every eighteen months to two years. This is why, as a Committee, we were troubled by the MoD’s decision to stop upgrade work on accommodation for the next three years. It is difficult to understand how this is either providing value for money for the taxpayer, or is indeed the right response given the contribution made by the families of serving personnel particularly when the Government have rightly attached so much importance to the Armed Forces Military Covenant.
It seems highly likely that ceasing spending on upgrades for accommodation in the short-term will inevitably lead to higher costs on accommodation in the longer term. Properties will fall into greater disrepair and the resultant costs to fix them in 3-5 years will be far greater than if a steady programme were maintained over the next few years. How can this be providing value for money for the tax payer? Not to mention what effect will it have on the families and what message does it send out as to how we value their contribution?
It seems to me that this is an example of the MoD saving money in one spending cycle in order to balance the books only to have to pay significantly more at a future date, necessitating cut backs elsewhere and continuing the vicious cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The Committee also expressed its concern over the standard of Single Living Accommodation. It is astounding that over 60% of Single Living Accommodation is deemed to be of an unacceptable standard. There is no doubt that the MoD has significant accommodation issues to contend with, such as where those returning from Germany will be based. The ongoing uncertainty here must be removed as soon as is practicably possible: it still is unacceptable that the MoD cannot estimate how long it will take to rectify this situation.
The MoD, as part of their New Employment Model work, has begun a study on the Future Accommodation Project. This is an excellent time to make a clear and binding assessment of what our Armed Forces need in the future with regard to accommodation. The three services vary greatly in terms of mobility and basing and any solution will need to be flexible enough to accommodate this. It will also need to develop a model that can adapt to the varying needs of personnel throughout their career span.
Many in the Army will want to keep accommodation in and around where they are based and to have the option of moving from base to base with their jobs, but this might not be the case for the other two services. For example, Navy personnel often have far longer periods of time separated from their families when they are onboard ship, and so their families wish to remain based in one port area for a number of years. Careful work needs to bring flexibility to provision to meet the needs of all service personnel and their families.
As the Committee pointed out, the MoD have now wisely laid the ground for 10 year cycles in other aspects of their budgets, such as procurement, it seems entirely reasonable that they should adopt the same approach with Armed Forces accommodation too. This will prevent them being deterred from instigating a solution that is likely to need up-front investment. After all, if we are starting to invest in Future Force 2020, we should be seen to honour our Armed Forces Covenant commitments and ensure that accommodation in 2020 serves the needs of those brave service personnel too.