'THE divide between rich and poor starts quite high up the social scale', mused a senior civil servant, who definitely counted as the poor.
In the armed forces the rich start at 'two-star rank' - rear admirals in the Navy. major generals in the Army and Royal Marines and Air vice-marshals in the RAF. They only earn pounds 59,974 a year but, while in a command job, they are provided with large, often listed houses, refurbished and maintained at public expense.
There are 69 official service residences for 'two stars' and above. Although the RAF has attracted most attention recently, it has fewest 'residences' - just 20, against 23 for the Army and 26 for the Navy.
In contrast, the rank below - a 'one-star' commodore, brigadier or air commodore, earning pounds 55,000 to pounds 56,000 a year - could be living in married quarters on an estate that would be indistinguishable from council housing.
The Ministry of Defence has set up a trust to manage its 70,000 married quarters and to let them out to service personnel.
At first it was thought that some of the more elaborate residences could be bought by the trust, but although no final decision has been made, it looks as if the trust would find that a very uncommercial proposition.
The justification for the luxurious 'residences' maintained at public expense is that senior officers spend little time in any one place and it would be unreasonable to expect them to buy their own houses for just a couple of years and then move on - even if accommodation of an appropriate standard was available in the area.
The need to be within easy reach of the headquarters and security is also a factor. Foreign and British generals, diplomats and ministers may need to be accommodated close to RAF stations.
'There is no doubt they have a proper entertainment role,' said a civil servant. The MoD said that that was the main justification.
The Chief of the Naval Staff and First Sea Lord enjoys a flat at Admiralty Arch in central London, paid for by the taxpayer, while the Army's Chief of the General Staff has one overlooking Hyde Park, also in the centre of the capital. So does the five-star Chief of the Defence Staff.
Sources in the services said that the latest publicity was probably inspired by 'someone more subtle than the Treasury', to enlist public sympathy for the swingeing cost cuts to be implemented next week.
Service manpower is to be reduced by a further 14,000 and civilians by 7,000, in order to meet Government targets of pounds 750m a year savings on the pounds 23bn annual defence budget.
*****Admiral of the Fleet/Field Marshal/ Marshal of the RAF pounds 118,179
****Admiral/General/Air Chief Marshal pounds 95,049 .TX.-*** Vice Admiral/Lieutenant General/ Air Marshal pounds 68,368
**Rear Admiral/Major General/Air Vice Marshal pounds 59,794
*Commodore/Brigadier/Air Commodore pounds 55,000 to pounds 56,000
Captain/Colonel/Group Captain pounds 45,000 to pounds 46,000Reuse content