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Annington Homes

Volume 477: debated on Monday 16 June 2008

3. What estimate he has made of the rent to be paid to Annington Homes for service personnel accommodation in 2008-09. (210790)

Rent to be paid in the financial year 2008-09 is £150 million. That represents 42 per cent. of the agreed market rental price for the properties listed from Annington Homes.

I pay tribute to the five soldiers from the Colchester garrison who lost their lives in Afghanistan in the last week, and I extend condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of those five brave young men. The town mourns, but there is immense pride in the knowledge that the Army is doing an excellent job. They did not die in vain.

As for Annington Homes, will the Minister confirm that over the past 12 years, the Government have paid more rent to Annington Homes than the Tory Government received during the privatisation in 1996? If that money could be invested in upgrading the homes of Army families, instead of lining the pockets of Annington, perhaps retention would be better than it is.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the amount paid for the sale was around £1.6 billion, and I have written to him with the details of the rent that is being paid. The key thing is that most people now accept that that deal, which was done by the previous Government, was not in the interests of armed forces personnel or their families, and we have had to deal with a legacy of decades of underinvestment. After 18 years in power, the Opposition could not solve that problem. We are spending a significant amount of money on housing—more than £8 billion in the next 10 years—and we are making inroads and improving a large amount of family accommodation and single-living accommodation. There is more to do. We are not complacent about the matter, and we will continue to press for improvements.

Not only does that deal not represent good value for money, as my hon. Friend confirmed, but Annington Homes must be making a handsome profit out of the arrangement. People are always looking to the Government for such things, but it is right to look to industries that make handsome profits out of the defence market. What discussions has the Under-Secretary had with Annington Homes to ask what it can do to put money back into the armed services?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I know that she takes a great interest in the matter. There is a contract, which was signed under the previous Government, to pay a set amount of money to Annington Homes under a deal that most people now recognise as pretty disastrous for accommodation for armed forces personnel. We have met representatives of Annington Homes to discuss what more we can to do to improve the housing position of our armed forces personnel. They are willing to discuss things with us—we are considering several ideas with them at the moment. When we reach a conclusion, I will be happy to report further on the matter.

But does the Under-Secretary agree that what matters to our armed forces and their families is the quality of the management of those homes? The Defence Committee found lamentable shortcomings in everyday management—taps working, loos flushing—issues that matter so much. In the new supergarrisons, will there be a new housing management system, which is an improvement on the current system? Will polyclinics be considered with the Defence Medical Services, as is happening in Tidworth in Wiltshire?

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in the matters that we are considering. The response, repair and maintenance service in England and Wales now shows sustained performance levels, with more than 96 per cent. of service family accommodation meeting the move-in standard. More than 99 per cent. of emergency calls are dealt with in 24 hours, and customer satisfaction with the response, repair and maintenance service is consistently above 90 per cent. However, I accept that more needs to be done. We must ensure that we stop the problems occurring in future and that services continue to improve. We will obviously examine a variety of ways in which to do that, but I stress that we are considering a relatively new contract. There were many teething problems when it came into being, but significant improvements have been made. I reassure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will continue to monitor the position and put a great deal of effort and work into ensuring that we get the further improvements.