RUN-DOWN power cables at Portsmouth Naval Base could threaten the ability of the Royal Navy’s £6bn aircraft carriers to operate, a damning report by a Whitehall spending watchdog has said.
A report released this morning by the National Audit Office claims the Ministry of Defence’s crumbling network of military bases has been allowed to deteriorate so badly it risks affecting the operational readiness of the armed forces.
Despite plans to sell 25 per cent of the defence estate by 2040, the NAO said there was still an £8.5bn shortfall in the funding needed to maintain and update facilities over the course of the next 30 years.
And one of the key highlights of the report is that a lack of funding to replace 80-year-old power cables at the Portsmouth Naval Base is threatening the future of the multi-billion pound aircraft carriers – the first of which is due to arrive next year.
This comes amid an on-going £100m improvement programme of the historic naval base to prepare the site for the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
The NAO’s report said a contract with a private sector consortium led by Capita to manage the estate had failed to deliver the expected ‘transformation’ in the way it was run despite the group receiving £90m in funding from the taxpayer.
The NAO claimed extent of the deterioration meant the inability of the MoD to invest sufficient funds in the estate could now jeopardise the delivery of new and existing military capabilities.
Others problems highlighted in the report include:
n The Army’s main vehicle support and storage site at Ashworth in Gloucestershire lacks the capability to keep vehicles at very high levels of readiness for deployments
n The fuels infrastructure at RAF Brize Norton - home of the air-to-air refuelling fleet - had to be shut down for safety reasons and a temporary facility installed because of lack of maintenance
n Failure to fix a leaking roof at the medical centre at RAF Valley in Anglesey led the building to deteriorate so badly it had to be demolished
The MoD spends £4.8bn on the estate which – at 424,000 hectares – accounts for 1.8 per cent of the total UK land mass.
However financial pressures have meant that since 2009, it has been forced to abandon its programme of improvement works, reducing service levels to those needed to keep the estate ‘safe and legal’, resulting in a ‘general deterioration’ in the overall condition.
‘There is a significant risk that the poor condition of the estate will affect the department’s ability to provide the defence capability needed,’ the NAO report said.
‘As the estate’s condition deteriorates, some parts may wholly or partially close. This will exacerbate other risks and could reduce operational readiness.’
Last week, defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced the MoD would be selling off another 56 bases and the money raised from sales would be reinvested back into defence.
Bases due to be axed in the cuts include HMS Sultan, which will close by 2026.
The NAO acknowledged the MoD did now have a plan to modernise its estate.
In a statement an MoD spokesman said: ‘This is an important report and we are determined to deliver a better defence estate.
‘That’s why we’ve outlined a long-term, military-led strategy, to invest £4 billion in: training facilities fit for our strong and modern armed forces and better accommodation to deliver more stability for military families.’
A Royal Navy spokesman adding the Senior Service was confident Portsmouth would be able to handle the arrival of the nation’s new aircraft carrier, next year,
‘Portsmouth Naval base will be ready for the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2017,’ the source said this morning.
‘The power delivery infrastructure required to support the arrival of the aircraft carrier has been fully assessed and, where necessary, upgraded.’