Protest over RAF inquiry: 'Heads should roll' demand by Tory MPs over cost of official residence

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The Independent Online
TORY MPs warned yesterday that 'heads should roll' over the excessive expenditure on the official residence of the Air Chief Marshal.

Michael Colvin, Tory MP for Romsey and Waterside, protested at the appointment of private consultants to investigate the spending of pounds 387,000 on Sir Sandy Wilson's residence at Haymes Garth, near Cheltenham.

MoD officials told a Commons select committee that Sheila Masters, of KPMG Marwick, former director of financial management for the NHS, would carry out an investigation into the failures in ministry cost controls to check RAF expenditure on the residence.

Mr Colvin said: 'I cannot accept this idea of bringing in outside consultants. In my own experience, they charge a lot of money to tell you something you already know.'

He said: 'What scope was there for interior decorators? Why, in this case, they went to Percheron, which my wife tells me is an extremely expensive retailer of fabric - and French not a British firm - (sold by) Sanderson's on the other side of the street, at a quarter of the price?'

The MoD officials told the Commons defence committee, which is carrying out a wide-ranging inquiry into defence estates, that an internal inquiry had been carried out. Viscount Cranborne, the defence minister, said MPs may have preferred an external inquiry following the widespread publicity about the excessive spending on Haymes Garth. The report is due in the autumn.

The row blew up after it was disclosed this week that the cost of the refurbishment had risen to pounds 387,000 - about pounds 127,000 more than originally disclosed. MPs have been told that curtains cost pounds 33,000. Sir Nicholas Bonsor, Tory chairman of the committee, said Sir Sandy was not to blame for the cost overrun and it was 'unfair' for him to be criticised.

The MoD gave details of the 77 official residences, which cost pounds 6.2m in maintenance and refurbishment over the past two years, with a further pounds 4.1m on 253 full-time domestic staff and 28 part-time staff.

(Photographs omitted)