March 23, 2007 / 12:08 AM / 12 years ago

Armed forces to live in poor housing "for 20 years"

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 40 percent of those in the armed forces with families live in sub-standard accommodation and some personnel will be based in poor quality housing for the next 20 years, a report said on Friday.

An MOD sign in a file photo. The MoD is the second largest landowner in Britain and its worldwide estate is valued at 18 billion pounds. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The National Audit Office, the independent spending watchdog, said despite substantial amounts invested by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), more needed to be done to improve living conditions.

“Praise is rightly bestowed on our armed forces for their achievements in very difficult circumstances,” said Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

“It is not right that, here in the UK, they should have to put up with shabby living and working quarters.”

The MoD is the second largest landowner in Britain and its worldwide estate is valued at 18 billion pounds.

But recently senior military figures have accused the government of not providing enough resources for troops, particularly citing out-of-date housing as a problem.

They warned that it could deter potential recruits from joining the armed services at a time when forces were stretched with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In January Lieutenant General Freddie Viggers, who is in charge of housing, said there was too much accommodation that was old and of poor standard.

The month before, Britain’s former top soldier General Sir Mike Jackson said some living quarters were “frankly shaming”.

The NAO said nearly 28,000 homes for family accommodation — about 60 percent — were at the highest standard. However 19,000 still needed to be upgraded.

Investment would also mean that the number of single bed living quarters reaching the required standard would be 75,000 by the end of 2012. However that would still leave 35,000 sub-standard spaces.

“The scale of the remaining problem is, however, such that unless more resources can be found, a significant number of service personnel and their families are likely to be housed in poor quality accommodation for 20 years or more,” the NAO said.

“With the exception of urgent operational requirements, the Department should give priority to work necessary to meet the terms of the contracts, to maintain and where necessary improve the quality of the estate.”

The report also pointed out that in 2006-7 Defence Estates, the organisation responsible for improvements, had had to find savings of 13.5 million pounds in cuts or deferrals in planned maintenance or repair.

However despite this, the MoD spent 45 million on fire safety systems, sports, toilet and shower facilities.

“I ... am left wondering if resources are being targeted in the right way: while roofs are left to leak, money has been found to build new sports pitches,” Leigh said.

The Ministry of Defence said it was committed to providing good quality housing to its personnel.

“We acknowledge that there are problems with some service accommodation, and are working hard to improve it,” said Defence Minister Derek Twigg. “Over 5 billion pounds will be spent on service accommodation over the next decade.”

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