Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. We do not dispute that. One might have an inquiry into why 52,000 were in sub-standard accommodation but that is not for today. What concerns me is that Annington seem to have got a stock that was inherited in very poor condition, I am sure for lack of investment over a decade and perhaps more, but that the bill for up-grading it was not borne by Annington but by the MoD.
  (Mr Tebbit) That was in the terms of the agreement and that was understood and known at the time.

  101. Yes, but the numbers were not, that is the thing. Annington knew—
  (Mr Tebbit) They did their study and we did ours. We were aware of what we were doing as well.

  102. But it suited them in their study to say, "We want these at minimal cost and actually we want you to think they are a reasonable level", and then to build in as they appear to have built in to the purchase that you should then up-grade them, and up-grade far more than were assessed as requiring the sort of up-grade.
  (Mr Tebbit) We were up-grading the houses in order to accommodate Service families decently and well as part of our morale and retention programme. We are not up-grading them in the context of releasing them to Annington. Dilapidations we pay are not the same as up-grading, I think there is a distinction.

  103. Annington throughout are getting better quality property which is theirs because they effectively own it; they have a 999 year lease.
  (Mr Tebbit) We are trying to focus the up-grade programme on what we know to be core stock which we are going to require for the long term. We are not focusing the up-grade programme on stock we are about to release to Annington. That would be foolish.

  104. You said earlier that because the report is a year old, the recommendations have largely been incorporated.
  (Mr Tebbit) Yes, a lot of the key recommendations, indeed.

  105. What has been the most effective and least effective?
  (Mr Tebbit) Before I ask Mr Wilson to comment on that, I would regard the most effective as being the way we now build up our requirements for long-term retention and for disposals area by area, rather than with a general target, so that the targets we are now building for disposal and core management, as it were, are much more sophisticated based on discussions with the military commanders, the sort of surrogate customers if you will for all this housing, as well as relying on information from the individuals.

  106. So what incentive have you brought in for the local area commanders to release accommodation? I notice the report in 5.5, page 52, is very critical. There are certainly no financial incentives.
  (Mr Tebbit) There are no financial incentives, the incentives are much more proactive management by DHE which has regular meetings now with the military authorities. There are formal quarterly meetings, there is a financial element now being built into this so that although they do not hold the budget there will be clear transparency of the opportunity cost financially of hanging on to property that is not required. There a general culture now within the Ministry of Defence—perhaps I am getting whimsical—but now we have a budget which is growing in real terms, it is very clear to everybody, and these are top-level budget holders in each of the commands, that any resources we can save through more efficient management are converted into the front line and not into unnecessary overheads. There are incentives in that area.

  107. To return to my original question, what are you most disappointed in in terms of making progress on?
  (Mr Tebbit) I am most disappointed. From my point of view, the biggest problem is the decline in demand, which is falling so sharply. Therefore, although we are making tremendous progress in disposing of property and identifying the core, it does not look that good because, as it were, the Executive is going, to some extent, against that tide of reduced demand. Perhaps I ought to ask Mr Wilson what he regards as his most positive achievement.
  (Mr Wilson) I think it is the identification of core stock. One cannot just look at disposals in isolation. What one has to look to, to get sorted out, are the short-term, medium-term and long-term requirements in order to identify the core stock, to make sure that we spend our refurbishment money only on that stock which we are going to require in the medium and long term, and to make sure that we dispose of the property which we do not intend to retain as core. In that case, as has been explained earlier, we do not suffer the full cost of the refurbishment of the property; all we are required to do in that eventuality is to pay dilapidations to Annington Homes. I believe that the uncertainties associated with the Strategic Defence Review are beginning to sort themselves out. There is an increasing acceptance, as I go round the country talking to Commands and Station Commanders, that it is in their own interest and the interest of their soldiers to focus on the core stock in that way and not to spend money on stock which will not form part of our long-term core. I believe we have made huge progress on that in the last year.

  108. The Report seems to make clear on page 45, in 4.11 and 4.12, that the local area housing officer knows a lot less about what is happening down the road than an office hundreds of miles away where personnel are being transferred to.
  (Mr Tebbit) That is another positive change, I think. There is an understandable reluctance to expect people to give notice to the place they are leaving until they have got their families sorted out, education and things like that in their new location. What we are doing about that is to make sure that the two bits of the Housing Executive stay in contact; that the bit where, as it were, the man is hoping to go to gets in touch with the place he is leaving and says, "By the way, X is thinking of moving", so that link is now established.

  109. Do you not think that that is an amazingly clumsy way of doing it? I would have thought the basic way is for the personnel who are doing the redeployment, who may be in an office next to the area Housing Executive manager, to nip through and tell them, and not go 200 miles away.
  (Mr Tebbit) They also do that. There are two systems. One is obviously relying on the individual. we need to make sure that the individual is linked up to the place he is going to, as well as the place he is living. The other is the notices given by the Services themselves of unit moves or individual moves. Unit moves are quite easy because there is a plan. For so-called trickle posting, as it is called, there is a requirement to notify. We have work under way to try and improve the systems for doing so.

  110. When did the requirement come in?
  (Mr Tebbit) There has always been a requirement to do so, but it takes time.

  111. There has always been a requirement. "Service personnel usually receive three months' notice of a posting. They apply almost immediately to the appropriate office", 200 miles away or wherever, "the area managers are concerned they often receive little notice of an individual's posting out of their area."
  (Air Marshal Pledger) Could I say, there is a slight misunderstanding here. The Personnel Management Authority who post these people is not next door, it is actually in Innsworth or elsewhere, it is a centralised process. Of course, everyone who is posted and gets a posting instruction may not necessarily be occupying one of these married quarters. It is pointless sending every posting instruction to DHE because they do not know whether or not they are required to move from a quarter. There is no point in doing it that way, that would just deluge them in paperwork that they do not know the consequences of.

  112. Pretty comprehensive details of the person would be on a card so you are not moving a pilot up North when you only need a mechanic.
  (Air Marshal Pledger) When Joe Bloggs is posted from station A to station B, I can send that information to DHE, but he may not be occupying married quarters. What is the purpose of sending that material to DHE?

  113. We have that record, presumably, of where he is living—we would not want him to be living in Moscow—we will have a record that he is living on the base or off the base and in what type of housing.
  (Air Marshal Pledger) DHE will not.

  114. That is because they have not been given one. We are talking about the people who are doing the posting, which is personnel.
  (Air Marshal Pledger) The people doing the posting are in Innsworth, they are not the admin. people in the local station.

  115. They might not be, but it would be very easy for them to check the records of where somebody is and make sure the base knows and the executive knows that the person is likely to move and likely to be vacating a property.
  (Air Marshal Pledger) By all means. The most efficient way of doing it is that those who apply somewhere else have a connection back to the losing unit. That is the most efficient way of doing it.

  116. That is where we have really failed.
  (Air Marshal Pledger) We now have it, we have established it, we have taken the recommendation and actioned it, but actioned it in a way that I believe is the most efficient way of recognising the need for that movement rather than going through the process.

  117. You are Joe Bloggs. What does your Joe Bloggs do now?
  (Air Marshal Pledger) When he is being posted from A to B he will apply to the new DHE region if he wants a house there. Immediately on receipt of that application, they will tell the losing area, so they know that Joe Bloggs is going to move out on a certain date. Both sides are fully informed so far as housing deployments are concerned.

  118. Joe Bloggs is applying 200 miles away, same as ever, three months' notice.
  (Air Marshal Pledger) The gaining unit at B—the DHE region who provides housing in that location—will receive from Joe Bloggs a bid for a married quarter at B. On receipt of that bid, which is his notification "I want a new married quarters", they will immediately inform the losing region and, therefore, both ends of the equation are tied up at the same time.

  119. That must have taken a lot of thought.
  (Air Marshal Pledger) No, no.
  (Mr Tebbit) This should have happened before.

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