MoD does up offices at expense of troops

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Indy Politics

The Ministry of Defence is planning to spend £367m refurbishing its headquarters in Whitehall while thousands of soldiers live in squalor. So bad are the standards of accommodation in barracks that army chiefs have been forced to waive the rent deducted from many soldiers' pay.

The Ministry of Defence is planning to spend £367m refurbishing its headquarters in Whitehall while thousands of soldiers live in squalor. So bad are the standards of accommodation in barracks that army chiefs have been forced to waive the rent deducted from many soldiers' pay.

The 50-year-old building is to be gutted to create open-plan offices with a giant atrium and cloistered walkways. Yet soldiers are living in barracks with the most basic sanitary arrangements.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the public sector pay review body has protested to the ministry about the conditions and even demanded that personnel in the worst barracks be paid a rent refund. Last night an MoD spokesman admitted there were serious problems in the barracks but said urgent plans were being drawn up to rectify the situation.

News that politicians and civil servants are to have such a large sum of money spent on their offices has infuriated senior officers who say that it has seriously undermined morale in the ranks. Conditions are understood to be particularly squalid in the Aldershot barracks. Soldiers living in former RAF barracks in Germany also have been subjected to poor living conditions.

Army sources said that although training bases for new recruits have been revamped, there has been little or no investment into accommodation used by longer-serving personnel, despite problems with retaining members of the armed services.

The Ministry of Defence admitted there were "issues" with accommodation but insisted there was no connection between the plans for its own headquarters and the need to renovate substandard barracks. A spokesman said: "It is being looked at and it will be upgraded. But the main building, the headquarters, is important and enables the entire armed forces to operate at maximum capability. It has not been upgraded since the 1950s and is substandard.

"Accommodation for soldiers is also important. That is why we are also addressing these issues, certainly at Aldershot and also in other areas where the accommodation is inadequate, with a degree of urgency."

The spokesman confirmed that soldiers living in Aldershot and elsewhere are not paying for their accommodation costs following the intervention of the pay review body.

The shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Iain Duncan Smith, urged the Government last night to act quickly to reverse the decline in housing conditions both at barracks and in army married quarters. "They are in such an appalling state that it is amazing that soldiers are still living in them," he said. "There are too many soldiers and families in substandard accommodation."

Mr Duncan Smith described the barracks at Aldershot as "tatty", adding that the bathrooms were in such disrepair that it was difficult to maintain basic standards of hygiene. He also condemned the decision to put money into buildings in Whitehall before sorting out the "crisis" in British barracks.

"Servicemen and women must be the number one priority because when you are losing people, when you are haemorrhaging like the armed forces are, you have to deal with the problems of retention first.

"If they have to go ahead with the MoD building refurbishments then they should be turning to the Treasury and asking for more money. If they can't do that they have to start making rational judgements about which is more important."

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