Army faced march on empty stomach

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The Independent Online
The supply of food to the armed forces was jeopardised during the introduction of a new contract which was aimed at making savings in the pounds 95m per year budget, according to a report by the National Audit Office.

The forces were nearly at the point of having to march on an empty stomach because orders for food were not reaching the kitchens as a result of 70 major computer program "difficulties".

Such was the chaos during the introduction of the new contract, in October 1994, and for several months afterwards, that the Navy Army and Air Force Institutes (Naafi), which had been awarded the contract without a competitive tendering process, had no idea where its stocks of food were being held and whether deliveries had been made or not. Naafi was then unable to fulfil orders within the 48 hours specified within the contract, but was allowed 72 hours. The norm in the commercial sector is just 24 hours.

The NAO says that the problem was caused by the haste with which the Government wanted to introduce the new contract with Naafi, which is seen as a possible prelude to full privatisation. Although advisers Ernst & Young had said that the new arrangements should be introduced within three or four years, the Ministry of Defence rushed the change through in 21 months.

The new contract involved Naafi taking complete responsibility for food supply to all 1,700 units, which feed around 100,000 personnel, rather than responsibility being divided between Naafi and the MoD.

The report reveals that healthy eating habits have not percolated through to the armed forces. Their annual consumption includes 29 million breakfast sausages, 738,000 catering sized tins of baked beans, 30 million eggs and 260,000 kgs of streaky bacon. Steak and kidney pies, 648,000 of which were supplied, seem to be the favourite dinner in the mess hall.

And some food was even unhealthier. In October 1995, cadets at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst were provided with a batch of striploin beef which was six weeks out of date. The report says that Naafi was unable to trace the boxes and "a product recall was not done". Similarly, 1.5 tonnes of rotten rice was distributed before it was noticed that the entire batch - 20 tonnes - was unfit to eat.

t Ministry of Defence: The Supply of Food to the Armed Forces; National Audit Office; pounds 8.95. pounds 8 95.