If, what MOD scribes decided that Minister of Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin should ‘say’ as part of the £1.6bn new contracts upgrade announcement for Defence Estates this morning – “Our people are at the heart of what we do and these contracts will deliver key services and facilities management for our Armed Forces personnel based around the country” then why on earth has it taken so long?
Promises, promises, promises over many years past but all too little action and benefits for those that really matter – members of the military and their families – has been seen.
Yes Mr. Quin, our military personnel really are at the heart of what the MOD is supposed to do. They – our military personnel – are always there for us but as an employer, you have rarely been there for them when it comes to accommodation. I have lost count of how many times I have over the years seen promises of investment and always tacit acceptance that conditions that our service men and women, and their families are living on military bases, but rarely have I seen direct action or response. What I wonder makes this announcement any different from those in the past?
Note too that the emphasis in the ‘heading’ of the announcement today in regard of delivering repairs and maintenance services was more about “supporting thousands of UK [industry] jobs over the next seven years rather than on emphasising that the intention was to give our military and their families fit for purpose accommodation that they clearly deserve!
For the record, the announcement today confirmed that:
“Our new contracts worth £1.6-billion have been awarded to industry delivering crucial building maintenance and hard facilities repair services across the UK defence estate. Forming part of the first phase of the Future Defence Infrastructure Services (FDIS) programme, the contracts cover 31,000 units and will support facilities at more than 400 Defence sites across the UK, including RAF Lossiemouth, Catterick, Andover, and Britannia Royal Naval College. The contracts awarded will create and sustain thousands of jobs across the UK, including more than 340 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The investment will also ensure that small and medium enterprises across the UK are supported through the Defence supply chain”.
Actions always speak louder than words and I am bound to wonder that even if this is ‘new’ money as opposed to money emerging from delayed disposals from the Defence Estate how, apart from the NAO and Public Accounts Committee, how progress by the various contractors appointed will be policed?
Large parts of maintaining defence accommodation had been the responsibility of the contractor Carillion Amey since 2018 (less said the better on the latter part of that name) and it was Amey who once again in June 2019 was awarded the Next Generation Estates contract.
My understand is that last year Amey received something over 6,000 complaints about Single Living Accommodation (according to a recent NAO report just over 80,000 military personnel [52%] live on this type of accommodation). It was already clear by then that dissatisfaction was very apparent amongst military personnel and this was made very clear in the 2020Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey which said that there had been a sharp decline in numbers of military personnel satisfied with the overall standards of accommodation.
Poor or expensive wi-fi was also cited (will someone please tell me why some military personnel have to pay for wi-fi?) but that is another story altogether. At the time of the Amey NGE contract in 2019 the DIO’s Commercial Director Jacqui Rocks said:
“Extending these contracts allows us to provide an uninterrupted service to our customers while we continue work to implement a new framework of contracts under our Future Defence Infrastructure Services programme. These contracts cover a huge range of activity, from technical facilities to homes, and the extensions mean Armed Forces personnel and their families will have continuity of service both at work and at home until the future contracts are delivered “
Two years on there appears to have been little improvement – indeed, mention the word Amey to some members of the military and the words are unrepeatable!
Examples of just how bad some military accommodation have been commonplace in recent years and I have seen some of this for myself. Stories of there being no hot water or mess/accommodation block heating, damp conditions, leaks, rodent infestations damaging electrical wiring are also commonplace – bottom line is that despite building new or refurbishing of accommodation blocks at Larkhill Barracks and RAF Lossiemouth in recent years, much of the Defence Estate military accommodation remains ate and RAF Marham in recent years. Getting repairs done by contractors whose responsibility it is to ensure accommodation is safe can and often does take weeks.
In February 2019 the then Secretary of Defence Gavin Williamson announced an update to the Defence Optimisation Programme with additional information about 33 military sites across the UK. He also confirmed that £1.5 billion would be invested in the estate over the next five years.
Where has that money been spent? Much of it has been used on building new accommodation at Larkhill Barracks and maybe other bases for soldiers returning from Germany.
The 2017-Armed Forces Covenant report had itself highlighted the deficiencies with the Amey contract, namely that it was short and very cheap, with families suffering as a result. In its response the MoD said that the lessons learned from the experience of the National; Housing Prime (NHP) contract would be applied to the replacement contract under the FDIS programme. This would apparently include the key performance indicators (KPI) being used to “incentivise suppliers to meet performance targets”.
Back in May 2019 a House of Commons Public Accounts Committee oral evidence session on Military Homes witnessed Graham Dalton, CEO of DIO, saying that there would be three or four housing contracts rather than one UK-wide housing contract and this should “allow some competition by reputation”. Hm!
Back to the 2017-Armed Forces Covenant report which said that the MOD must learn lessons and ensure that contracts under the Future Defence Infrastructure Services (FDIS) programme have a customer-focused approach.
So, there we are – lots of talk, lots of promises about new investment but why is it that I fear that in a year or two I will be writing about a similar level of dissatisfaction?
For the record, today’s announcement from the MOD confirms that” four new contracts worth £1.6-billion have been awarded to industry delivering crucial building maintenance and hard facilities repair services across the UK defence estate.
Forming part of the first phase of the Future Defence Infrastructure Services (FDIS) programme, the contracts cover 31,000 units and will support facilities at more than 400 Defence sites across the UK, including RAF Lossiemouth, Catterick, Andover, and Britannia Royal Naval College.
The contracts awarded will create and sustain thousands of jobs across the UK, including more than 340 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The investment will also ensure that small and medium enterprises across the UK are supported through the Defence supply chain. The seven-year contracts announced today are:
Mitie: £160-million for facilities across Scotland and Northern Ireland
Vivo: £558-million for the central region of the UK including Wales, the Midlands and the North of England. Vivo has also been awarded a £336 million contract for facilities delivery in the South West of England
Vinci: £423-million for the South East of England
Facilities management covers maintenance of defence buildings, accommodation and training facilities across the UK estate, including plumbing and electrical works, and offering general infrastructural repair services.
CHW (London – 15th June 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785