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Armed forces personnel living in ‘rat-infested’ accommodation, Commons hears

Defence minister James Cartlidge said thousands of homes for service personnel will benefit from additional funding.

Coronavirus – Tue Jul 21, 2020

Armed forces personnel are living in “rat-infested” accommodation and facing issues including damp and mould, the Commons has heard.

Defence minister James Cartlidge said thousands of homes for service personnel will benefit from additional funding as he faced questions and criticism from across the House on the issue.

He said the situation last winter in relation to issues such as damp and mould in service accommodation “was not good enough” but insisted the Government has set out a plan to address the issue this year.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps told the Commons: “The service men and women of our armed forces are our greatest asset, and has been mentioned this morning, when we ask them to go and do extraordinarily difficult things around the world they do deserve comfort back home, which is why I put service accommodation at the forefront of my mission.”

Liberal Democrat MP Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) said: “A constituent of mine who lives at Clive Barracks at Tern Hill in Shropshire has reported that he lives in rat-infested accommodation and sometimes with two to six soldiers living in the same room.

“As a result, shipping containers have been placed on the grounds there, around 40 at the end of August kitted out like budget hotel accommodation for those soldiers to live in.

“Can the minister provide any reassurance that somewhere appropriate for these servicemen to live in will be provided in the near future?”

Cabinet meeting
James Cartlidge answered questions on accommodation for servicemen and women (James Manning/PA)

Mr Cartlidge said: “Well I’m obviously sorry to hear about that case, I would ask her very much to write to me with the details of it, I will look into it with DIO (Defence Infrastructure Organisation).

“But I think the key thing is wherever we’re talking about, whichever specific barracks or base if we’re going to get on with the works, we need the money there, we’ve got that, we’ve put in place the extra £400 million.

“And as I set out in the winter plan thousands of homes of forces personnel will now benefit from that work.”

Labour MP Chris Elmore (Ogmore) said: “This time last year the minister will be aware that almost 5,000 armed forces personnel’s homes were affected by black mould and damp, including obviously many properties that had children in them.

“A year on, too many of our service personnel and their families still have this problem. No matter whether it’s one house or 5,000 houses, can the minister set out how he is going to tackle this problem quickly?

“Our armed forces personnel and their families deserve better than what they are getting to date.”

Mr Cartlidge said: “We are aware that what happened last winter was not good enough. Too many homes were affected, particularly in damp mould.

“That’s why first of all we have prioritised getting the investment in and it’s more than doubled in the current financial year.

“And I’m pleased to confirm to him, last week I set out our winter plan which showed that 4,000 homes in the defence estate will benefit from significant work on damp and mould. That’s around 60% of the total number that require that work.”

Mark Francois called the accommodation contract ‘a disaster’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Conservative former defence minister Mark Francois said: “The DIO is not fit for purpose and the FDIS (Future Defence Infrastructure Services) accommodation contract has been a disaster, including completely unacceptable delays in the issuing of checking the gas and electricity safety certificates.

“No private landlord would get away with this without being sued.”

In response, Mr Cartlidge said: “One of the aspects of the winter plan, which is important, is a significant increase in staff manning that telephone service so that we see better service to personnel.

“And we expect the average waiting times for one of those calls to go from seven minutes to 29 seconds, it’s actually going to be very important to service personnel that when they make those calls they get answered in good time.”

Conservative MP Dame Caroline Dinenage said: “Earlier this year, one of the accommodation blocks in HMS Collingwood in my Gosport constituency was shut down altogether because it simply was not fit for human habitation, there are also some issues within the accommodation blocks within HMS Sultan.”

She invited the minister to come to her constituency to look at some of the accommodation available for service personnel, saying: “It’s simply not good enough, they deserve better.”

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