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Armed Forces: Food

Volume 479: debated on Monday 1 September 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what assessment has been made of the effects of the Pay As You Dine scheme on nutrition of young soldiers; and what steps he is taking to ensure that young soldiers reliant on the Pay As You Dine scheme consume an adequate diet; (207569)

(2) what assessment has been made of whether the Pay As You Dine scheme has promoted healthy eating;

(3) what customer satisfaction surveys of the Pay As You Dine scheme have been undertaken and if he will publish the results of the surveys.

I will write to the hon. Member.

Substantive answer from Bob Ainsworth to Andrew Murrison:

My colleague, the Under Secretary of State for Defence, undertook to write to you in answer to your Parliamentary Questions on 2 June 2008, (Official Report, column 669-670W) about Pay As You Dine (PAYD) for Service personnel. I am responding as the Duty Minister.

Prior to the introduction of PAYD, all Service personnel living in Single Living Accommodation paid a fixed food charge to cover three meals per day, irrespective of the number of meals that they actually ate. Inspection showed that on average 50 percent of meals or less were being taken. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body during their annual round of discussions with Service personnel identified strong support, particularly from amongst the junior ranks, for a replacement system which would enable personnel to pay only for food that they ate. In 2005, the MOD gave approval for each of the Services to implement PAYD and this they are now doing in a manner appropriate to meet their individual Service needs. PAYD is part of a concept of integrated catering, retail and leisure services that aims to improve the quality of life for Service personnel. It gives our Service personnel greater freedom by giving them the choice over when, where and how they eat and promotes fairness by ensuring that Service personnel pay only for the meals that they consume.

The PAYD scheme incorporates a core menu which conforms to the Tri Service Menu Policy. Indeed, the three core meals under PAYD are designed to be broadly to the same standard (ie to provide the required calories and nutritional balance if all three meals are taken) as those specified under the old regime with the cost of the core menu being exactly the same as the current Daily Food Charge. The MOD undertakes to provide a variety of healthy palatable food and beverages to all military personnel to enable them to adopt healthy eating habits, a balanced diet and to ensure optimal fitness and performance. Contract Caterers who deliver PAYD are required to provide food at the point of service that meets these requirements. In addition we continue to encourage all personnel to eat in a healthy and balanced manner. However, whether Service personnel are at a PAYD site or not, the ability to ensure that young serving personnel eat a healthy and balanced diet is somewhat limited. The menus at each meal offer healthy options but we do not have the ability to force people to choose that option. With the introduction of PAYD and choice there comes with it a certain degree of personal responsibility in terms of what they eat. There is also a mechanism in place to ensure that nobody is denied a meal if they run out of funds and special dietary and religious eating needs continue to be accommodated.

Your first question referred to the impact on young soldiers. Due to the special circumstances of the nutritional needs of young trainees (of all the Services), Phase one trainees and some Phase two trainees do not participate in PAYD, but continue to pay the Daily Food Charge and are entitled to the core menu to ensure they receive a balanced and nutritional diet which includes appropriate supplements to cater for high activity levels (although it is still the individual's choice as to what they put on their plate at meal times). Trainees receive specifically targeted booklets, lifestyle lectures and guidance during training to ensure that they appreciate the importance of adequate and appropriate eating habits in relation to their professional and personal activities. In addition new recruits are also taught how to budget for PAYD.

In terms of assessing whether or not the PAYD scheme has promoted healthy eating—all contract Caterers are required to provide healthy options at each core meal. Contracts provide for cereals, yoghurt and fruit as part of the breakfast menu and for lunch and dinner salads and fresh vegetables are available. Where concerns are raised, these are addressed directly with the Contractor and alternative healthier options to various meals are introduced. PAYD was introduced to give people choice; it does this by offering a wide variety of meals at varying prices. Healthy options (as part of the core meal) are available if chosen by the individual.

In addition, Defence Food Services has issued all Commanding Officers with a pan-Service booklet "A Guide to Healthy Eating" to complement and reinforce the policy. The Expert Panel of Armed Forces Feeding (EPAFF), in consultation with QinetiQ, has also produced and issued a Recruits Guide to Nutrition, a Servicewoman's Guide to Health and Performance, and an Armed Forces Personal Guide to Nutrition. All of these publications recognise the potential change to individual food choice as a result of the introduction of PAYD and are designed to provide individuals with the necessary guidance and advice to enable them to choose the right foods so that they can more easily cope with the physical demands of military training, operations and competitive sports. The single Services continue to reinforce the healthy eating message through various single Service publications.

The single Services monitor the PAYD scheme through a regular programme of meetings between the Services and Contractor both locally and at HQ level. For the Royal Navy, the contracts require that the contractors undertake regular Customer Surveys and provide returns for assessment by the Royal Navy commercial branch and the Catering Services subject matter experts. The Army has a survey under way which began in late April 2008, the responses to which are still being received. Over 4,000 questionnaires were distributed with the results becoming available over the next few months. The RAF which has only three PAYD sites has monitored feedback on its trial sites via customer feedback forms. However since the start of 2008, focus groups have been held and are currently being completed to indicate consumer views. In addition, a sample of RAF personnel has been completing food diaries over a period of a month to gauge eating patterns. A formal independent assessment by a Market Research company is currently being carried out at comparable PAYD and non PAYD units. Centrally, feedback is received via the various Continuous Attitude Surveys undertaken by the Single Services. The first UK Tri-Service Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2007 was published on 9 July 2008 and is available at:

http://www.mod.uk/NR/donlyres/E4D829FFFD4D46F8B9B403837353F6B1/0/afcasresults_2007.pdf.

A copy is also available in the Library of the House.