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Service Accommodation

Volume 542: debated on Monday 26 March 2012

7. What steps his Department is taking to improve service accommodation; and if he will make a statement. (101602)

The Ministry of Defence is continuing to target efforts on the most pressing accommodation issues. For example, both this year and next, the MOD plans to spend around £75 million on upgrading single accommodation. Furthermore, some £44 million was allocated in financial year 2011-12, and £50.5 million in 2012-13, to upgrade service families’ accommodation to the top standard. In addition, the Government have just announced £100 million of further investment in financial year 2013-14. Around 650 service homes and 600 single accommodation units are expected to benefit from this substantial investment.

What steps are being taken to adapt service accommodation for servicemen or women who are injured or disabled in combat?

This is taken on a case-by-case basis. Accommodation will be adapted as necessary where a clear user is coming in and using a unit of accommodation. However, rather than trying to pre-empt or guess what will be required, we will continue to take an entirely pragmatic approach.

The Minister will be aware that the Defence Committee recently visited the Falkland Islands. As part of an excellent programme, we looked at the accommodation provided to servicemen while they are in the Falklands. However, we came across personnel from the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland who were being accommodated in camp beds in an old gym, having just returned from an exercise. Does he find that acceptable, and will he look into it to ensure that it does not happen again?

The accommodation to which the hon. Lady refers was an entirely temporary arrangement while the units of accommodation that those personnel would ordinarily have been living in were being refurbished—I think this was made clear to the Select Committee on its visit. Those personnel will be in that permanent accommodation as soon as it is ready.

As the Minister correctly says, this Government have done a great deal since they came to power. However, does he agree that the provision of decent accommodation, for both single servicemen and married couples—and, indeed, for families—is central to the military covenant? Does he agree that there is so much more to be done, and that even the announcements that he has made are not yet all that could be done? When does he anticipate having an entire military estate that is fit for purpose?

As I explained in my initial answer, we continue to make substantial investments, which were further boosted by the additional funds that were made available last week in the Budget. It is important to keep a sense of proportion about the condition of housing at the moment. More than 96% of family accommodation in the UK is in either condition 1 or 2, and we are now meeting the commitment in the armed forces covenant that no family accommodation will be newly allocated if it falls in condition 3 or 4. There is more to be done in the case of single living accommodation, but that work continues apace. Even as we speak, the Allenby Connaught project is continuing to deliver new units of single living accommodation across Salisbury plain and in Aldershot.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the likely cost of upgrading the service accommodation in the Edinburgh estate, including at Craigiehall in my constituency, is likely to be significantly less than the £600 million cost of the proposed super-barracks in Kirknewton?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the costs of differing future accommodation options for the Army are being scrutinised closely. The Army 2020 piece of work is nearing a conclusion. The attendant estate study will continue for a few months, but the sort of comparisons that he makes will be central to the thinking in those studies.

May I press the Minister on his answer on single accommodation? When does he expect single accommodation—I mean single accommodation specifically—to be up to a standard that he would expect all service personnel to live in?

The aim would be to complete that as part of Future Force 2020, but we cannot know for certain until the work that I described a moment ago is completed. Until we know the future basing requirement of the Army, it will be very hard to say. For example, if a great deal of new build for new barracks were involved, this goal would be likely to be achieved much earlier than if it were a question of “make do and mend”. Some pretty big strategic decisions need to be taken on the defence estate during the next six months.

I welcome the priority given by the Government to this issue when they are under intense financial pressures. May I suggest that the very different accommodation patterns across the services are one of several good reasons why the future new employment model should be devolved to the three services rather than developed centrally?

It is certainly the case that future employment practices will determine the sort of accommodation we supply to our armed servicemen, and these will vary across the three services, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.