Housing provided for Britain's armed forces is not fit for purpose
We need more effective mechanisms to compel contractor CarillionAmey to improve, says Suella Braverman
This month we have been treated to two military spectacles – the D-day commemorations and trooping the colour. The former reminded us of the indispensable role our armed forces have played in influencing global history. The latter was a symbol of how they continue to allow Britain to project its influence across the world today. Both served to highlight the immense debt of gratitude we owe to our servicemen and women, past and present.
In the face of all this, though, it is perhaps too easy to overlook what goes on behind the scenes – the daily intricacies that facilitate our armed forces’ greatness. I speak of course of issues such as housing provision, veterans’ welfare, and mental health. Indeed, successive governments have been guilty of this. Complacency over the standard of living we offer our armed forces personnel has become a blight on our nation’s proud record of military prestige that so visibly manifested itself earlier this month. It is an issue that cannot be overlooked any longer.
Take housing. Too often I encounter forces personnel writing to me about the poor quality of housing stock and inadequate maintenance services. Common complaints from across the country highlight how service families must put up with living in houses riddled with damp and mould, or of fittings not properly functioning or appliances not working.
In one such case a service family had been left without hot water or heating for several weeks, despite living with a seven-week-old baby and a four-year-old. Indeed, around 1,000 complaints a month are submitted about shoddy conditions. This is not good enough.
Currently, there are some 50,000 service family accommodation (SFA) units in the UK. Their provision is the responsibility of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation within the MoD. Their maintenance is left to CarillionAmey, who were awarded a £2.8bn contract to do so in 2014 and are supposed to operate according to the armed forces covenant, which outlines that service personnel and their families are to be provided with good quality accommodation, in the right location and at a reasonable price.
When raising their concerns with CarillionAmey, reports consistently point out how service families are met with slow and reluctant attitudes to process their complaints – even appalling shortcomings such as rat infestations have encountered a lacklustre response.
It is essential to stress that the consequences of poor housing stock, underinvestment and lousy maintenance services reverberate far beyond the four walls of your average SFA home. We have seen frustration with the failure to undertake small-scale repairs driving highly trained personnel to leave the military, and acting as a hindrance to recruitment targets. No prospective young recruit with ambitions to start a family will be attracted by out-of-date or poorly maintained housing stock. For those recruits opting to leave, this represents hugely wasted potential for the armed services and a waste of the investment made in them.
As part of our efforts to move forward we need more effective mechanisms in holding CarillionAmey to account in delivering services, thereby compelling the contractor to improve its communication channels, feedback and customer services.
The current government deserves credit for recognising the need to invest in the armed forces estate and has recently committed £1.5bn to be channelled over the next five years. However, within that, we cannot afford to overlook the importance of delivering good quality forces housing and in bringing our quarters up to a standard befitting of one of the world’s greatest militaries. It would be inexcusable for future governments to afford the same degree of complacency to this issue that successive administrations have been guilty of in recent decades.
The commemorative events held to honour D-day earlier this month allowed the nation to reflect on a generation of heroes who gave everything to protect their country when the call sounded – a virtue that has become part of the institutional fabric of our armed forces and a source of the enduring debt of gratitude and pride that our nation has in them. It is time we, as legislators, got serious about protecting them in return; whether that be on, or off, the battlefield.
Suella Braverman is Conservative MP for Fareham