Committee of Public Accounts Press Notice

Managing the defence estate: quality and sustainability

Publication of 61st Report 2006-07

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

“The state of a good deal of the living accommodation provided for our military personnel is simply unacceptable. Half of all single accommodation provided by the MOD is below par. As are some 19,000 of the family houses provided.

“The MOD is aware of this and trying to improve things, but it is planning to upgrade only 900 family homes each year. Which means for the next twenty years some servicemen and women and their families will have to put up with living in substandard accommodation.

“In response to funding cuts the MOD put off essential maintenance work such as re-roofing buildings, but still found the cash to build all weather sports pitches and spruce up tennis courts.

“Nobody is saying it is inappropriate to offer a range of leisure facilities on site, but the department has to get its priorities straight. Let’s mend the leaking roofs first, and then worry about the state of the tennis courts.”

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 61st Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Ministry of Defence, examined the standard of living accommodation, the Department’s ability to prioritise estate projects effectively, and its response to staff shortages.

The Ministry of Defence (the Department) has an extensive and complex estate of some 240,000 hectares. After the Forestry Commission, the Department is the United Kingdom’s second largest landowner. The estate is valued at over £18 billion and cost some £3.3 billion to operate in 2005-06. The built estate (80,000 hectares) includes offices, living accommodation, aircraft hangars and naval bases; the rural estate (160,000 hectares) comprises mainly training areas. The estate is essential to the delivery of military capability and the welfare and morale of Service personnel. In recent years, there have been significant changes to the way that the Department manages its estate, and there are many different projects which are intended to improve the quality of its land and buildings.

Much of the living accommodation leaves a lot to be desired, and some military personnel and their families will continue to live in substandard housing for the next 20 years. Despite improvements, more than 50% of 110,000 bedspaces of single accommodation in Great Britain fall below the requisite standard, and 19,000 family houses (over 40% of stock) are also below standard. The Department only plans to upgrade 900 family houses each year.

In 2006-07, the Department cut £70 million from its budget in response to unforeseen rises in the cost of fuel and other problems. The Department took £15 million from its budget for estate management. It decided to cut planned maintenance work, including re-roofing projects and repairs to hangar doors, rather than postponing other work such as the construction of all-weather pitches and the resurfacing of tennis courts. In part, this decision was taken because of poor management information, which also meant that £45 million of low-value construction projects could not be carried out in the most efficient way. The Department does not yet understand the full cost of its estate or where future investment should be targeted to best effect.

Skills shortages are adversely affecting the Department’s ability to discharge some of its key estate management responsibilities. A lack of quantity surveyors means that it cannot properly scrutinise capital works projects and may be paying too much in some cases. The shortage of safety works professionals puts its adherence to Health and Safety legislation at risk, and could have legal implications.

Notes for Editors

1. Contact details for requests for further comment from Mr Edward Leigh are provided below. ISDN facilities are available for broadcasting purposes.

2. The full text of the Committee’s Conclusions and Recommendations is attached to this press notice.