MOD's 'disastrous' lack of estate strategy wasting taxpayers' money, report finds

The Ministry of Defence is one of the largest landowners in the UK with a diverse estate of some 240,000 hectares valued at £36bn.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is wasting huge amounts of taxpayers' money by mismanaging its multi-billion-pound property portfolio, a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found.

With barracks, training areas and housing estates for troops, the MOD is one of the largest landowners in the UK with a diverse estate of some 240,000 hectares worth an estimated £36bn.

The PAC report calls the Ministry of Defence's approach to managing its land and buildings "disastrous", with 30% of its properties in an unacceptable condition.

In the year 2019/2020, the PAC found the MOD spent £4.6bn on the UK's defence estate – about twice the annual cost of maintaining the UK's nuclear deterrent.

In its report, the committee highlighted the importance of the defence estate, as "vital in supporting military capabilities, and its condition affects the lives and welfare of our service personnel".

It claimed, however, that about 40% was built more than 50 years ago and "30% is in an unacceptable condition".

The report went on to say the MOD has "not tackled the long-known problems with the poor quality of its estate, which continue to harm the wellbeing of service personnel".

"By retaining unneeded estate, the department wastes resources that could support frontline personnel and develop new military capabilities," it added.

In April, the PAC said in a report that declining satisfaction levels with military accommodation creates a risk of troops leaving service early.

Watch: Richard Holden spoke to Forces News in April about 'neglected' housing.

In 2016, the MOD set up a 25-year Defence Estate Optimisation Portfolio investment strategy with the expectation that it would reduce the size of the built estate by 25%, and other sales would reduce it by a further 5%.

However, according to the report, since then it has reduced its built estate by just 2% and even if it achieves all planned disposals, the estate would be reduced by just 16% in total.

Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, PAC deputy chairman, insisted there is a "disastrous lack of estate strategy" within the department.

"The MOD is spending about twice as much a year maintaining the defence estate as it does maintain the UK's nuclear deterrent but, as this inquiry has disappointingly revealed, it doesn't know exactly what it spent £4.6bn of taxpayers' money on last year – or what it should be spending it on.

"Over the last decade, targets have been set and then missed by miles."

Shadow defence minister Chris Evans said there has to be a "strong management structure" to make sure the Government makes the most of such estates.

He said: "This is an issue that has been going on for 10 years. This lack of data was identified years ago and we are still in a situation where the Ministry of Defence doesn't know the cost of its defence estates.

"There has to be some strong management structure in place to make the most of these estates."

An MOD spokesperson said: "We recognise the need to continually improve the defence estate, that is why we are releasing our Strategy for Defence Infrastructure in the coming month and investing at least £5bn over the next decade to modernise our estate.

"Over 97% of UK service family accommodation meets or exceeds the Decent Homes Standard, with no properties allocated below that standard."