Sunday, 15 May 2011

ACTION THIS DAY

David Cameron's public commitment to enshrining the military covenant in law is welcome, but, based upon the past record of various Conservative and New Labour Governments towards treating our service personnel and their families, before, during and after their service, I and no doubt more than a few others will believe his party's commitment when I actually see it happen and the bill becomes law.

Let's not forget that successive Conservative and Labour governments have treated our servicemen and their families with contempt, no wonder some people believe that it no longer matters which of the two larger party's is in government, as our servicemen will be treated with contempt. in recent years our service personnel have literally been forced to buy their own kit and treated to a total lack of interest.

Elfyn Llwyd MP
Yet time and time again it is our servicemen that will be called on to step in to pull the fat from the fire whether it is dealing with the consequences of strikes, disasters, the saving lives at sea, foot and mouth and almost everything else as an when necessary. Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd MP has repeatedly challenged the UK Government over its commitment to the military covenant, arguing that veterans have been completely left off the Armed Forces Bill currently passing through the Commons.

It's worth remembering that it was a Conservative Government that chose to privatise military housing. This crazy decision was a combination of ideological driven idiocy and exceptionally poor financial management /judgement as a result of dodgy decisions made during the dying days of John Major's Conservative Government came back to haunt Gordon Brown's New Labour Government during its dying days.

New Labour Ministers were blamed for allowing thousands of soldiers' homes to fall into ruin and disrepair after they were sold to the private sector in a £1.6 billion deal. Some 57,600 homes from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were sold to City Financiers and then rent them back to troops for a profit.

The terms of the deal, made in 1996 meant that the MoD remained responsible for the properties' upkeep and claimed that the extra cash from the deal would provide badly needed funds to help refurbish them. However, the truth was a tad different, as it emerged that the Westminster Government diverted most of the money elsewhere.

The deal resulted in the payment of a tidy £1.67 billion to the Treasury for the homes, a profit share of £156m on the sale of surplus properties, yet many are dilapidated and unfit to live in. New figures reveal that the MoD has spent as little as £4.4m a year on maintenance and refurbishment. The Sunday Times revealed details of just how little the government has spent on the properties in 2010 reporting that General Sir David Richards, the head of the army, was concerned that many troops felt undervalued because of cuts to housing and shortages in other areas.

By the mid-1990s, military housing around the country was in need of tens of millions of pounds worth of repairs. John Major's Conservative administration agreed to sell off the Military housing stock to the highest bidder, partly to raise funds for a refurbishment programme. The deal was put together in November 1996 with the government being paid for the homes, which would then be rented to troops and their families at below market rates.

Surplus properties would be sold off with a percentage of the profits going to the Treasury. The consortium that acquired the military housing stock made more than £479m in profits from its investment vehicle (Annington Homes) and became one of the UK's largest owners of private residential property.Now this was all fine in theory, as the soldiers and their families should have benefited from the deal with hundreds of millions of pounds pouring into the Treasury.

The Sunday Times revealed that New Labour ministers ensured that only a fraction of that sums raised be spent on the housing stock that had generated the windfall. Annual expenditure revealed in a parliamentary answer) on maintenance and upgrade was revealed to have ranged from £4.4m to £13.9m between 2003 and 2008. New Labour Ministers got very defensive and insisted that they will produce extra funds to help improve the quality of the homes and pointed out that more than £27m was spent in the financial year 09/10.

So what we ended up with was an unholy mess which was a direct result of decisions made by the previous Conservative Government and by successive New Labour Governments that resulted in army families living in substandard military accommodation while some of whose loved ones served overseas - so much for the military covenant. The poor maintenance record pre-dated privatisation of the military housing stock was a reality well prior to 1996.

The Conservative Government in 1996/97 effectively washed its hands of a long standing problem, by selling off the military housing stock to the highest bidder in what can best be described a questionable deal which shifted responsibility onto someone else so that ministers who could not be held accountable and subsequent New Labour Governments failed miserably, to ensure that repair, updates and maintenance was being carried out.

A bad situation was then made worse by successive New Labour government's which failed to carry out basic repair and maintenance, they slashed the defence budget from which money for the maintenance of MOD property is provided. One wonders on what the £1.67 billion received was spent on and whether the then Chancellor Gordon Brown was ever aware of what was going on?

The current Con Dem government has spent most of the last year since it's emergence burying its head in the sand and perhaps hoping that the problem will go away - well it won't and it needs fixing, so get it done and no more weasel words.

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