Dan Jarvis – 2022 Speech on Service Family Accommodation

The speech made by Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, in the House of Commons on 20 December 2022.

I thank the Minister for his response. There will be complete agreement, I am sure, on the importance of looking out for those amazing men and women who serve in our armed forces and, critically, their families as well. The Minister will be well aware—he alluded to this in his statement—of the volume of concerns about the state of service family accommodation and single living accommodation. It is particularly concerning given the recent freezing weather and proximity to Christmas, but it is also at a time when our armed forces continue to be busy, not least, potentially, with commitments to Military Aid to the Civil Authorities.

Some shocking recent accommodation cases include: recurring black mould causing viral infections in children; crumbling roofs leaving houses exposed to the elements; burst pipes flooding homes; and broken boilers in sub-zero temperatures. What is worse is that, currently, there is no reasonable way to report and resolve those problems, as there are waits of two hours on Pinnacle’s helpline, if callers can get through at all. Even when a report is lodged, there is no guarantee that a repair will happen urgently.

Such are the concerns that have been expressed about the inaction of various contractors, there is evidence of soldiers signing out sleeping bags. No single contractor is responsible for repairs and maintenance, meaning that there is no central responsibility. However, there is central accountability, and, ultimately, that lies with the MOD.

Those who step forward to serve deserve and expect better. I look to the Minister to act urgently, by which I mean today, to move heaven and earth to ensure that measures are being taken to alleviate this problem. Can I ask him to provide an update on whether the Secretary of State’s meetings with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, Amey, Pinnacle and VIVO have taken place? If not, why not? Can he outline a plan for MOD intervention to ensure that the backlog of repairs is dealt with as a priority? Can he say more on how the Department will support service personnel and their families affected by these issues over the Christmas holidays?

The current standards of service accommodation are just not good enough. We are a very long way away from homes fit for heroes. The Government must do better.

Alex Chalk

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks, many of which I completely agree with. He asks whether we will act today. I can say that the Secretary of State has met the DIO, Pinnacle, Amey and VIVO and that some of these issues were becoming apparent quite some time ago. In fact, a rectification plan was imposed in the middle of September. There were 480 or so elements of that plan, of which 200 have been complied with. That does not mean that the situation has been sorted—far from it—because when the cold snap came, we saw that it revealed more difficulties.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the backlog. I can say that the backlog of complaints peaked at a stunning 4,200 or so. That has come down to around 3,100, but I completely accept that that is far too many.

The real issue, it seems to me, is there must be prevention in the first place. In other words, the quality of accommodation must be good enough at the point that service personnel go into the properties in the first place. There are some indications of improvement in that regard. First, in addition to the standard £176 million for accommodation, the MOD has allocated £350 million over and above that annual sum to get on top of the maintenance issues. In July of this year, when 1,276 service personnel went into properties, 4% turned out on the day to have non-habitable failures; by December that figure had gone down to 0.6%. This is about ensuring that the properties are fit for purpose at the outset.

On the issue of mould, which the hon. Gentleman is right to raise, it is unconscionable to think that people should be moving into properties with any mould, and I am pleased to have had a clear assurance from DIO that that will not happen again. Now, if there is a report of mould, a fully qualified inspector should come in to do a proper report and alternative accommodation should be provided, if appropriate. I will end where he did: these are people who come to serve our country, and the least we can do is ensure that they have proper accommodation. I will do everything in my power to ensure that we honour that requirement.