Calls grow for overhaul of 'inadequate' military housing - and Portsmouth City Council offers to take it over

Calls for an overhaul of ‘inadequate’ military housing have been backed by a leading Portsmouth charity.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 10th January 2020, 6:10 am
1SL meeting the crew of HMS Prince of Wales.

The condition of military homes has long been a bone of contention – with residents reporting a litany of troubles including a long backlog of repairs, dodgy plumbing and faulty electrics.

Adrian Bell, chief executive of the Portsmouth-based Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity says he is ‘concerned’ about the state of military housing - and he has backed a plan hatched by Portsmouth City Council to take over the management of all military homes in the area.

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Pictured: Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Portsmouth City Council boss Gerald Vernon-Jackson has revealed the bid as part of a ground-breaking idea to shake-up how service family accommodation is supported.

The Lib Dem chief’s vision would see the city council acting as landlord of the vast stock military homes across the Portsmouth, Gosport, Fareham and Waterlooville.

The proposal would see the council take over the maintenance deal for the homes, which is contracted to infrastructure giant Amey.

Andrian Bell, chief executive of the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity,

Cllr Vernon-Jackson insisted the move would help drive up standards of homes across the area and could play a key role in solving the navy’s manpower crisis.

The MoD says it has no plans to change its contract but undeterred, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘The offer is there for the navy. We can’t force them into it. But we believe we could do it better and cheaper.’

He added the poor state of housing was having a detrimental impact on morale, causing ‘good people’ to retire from the navy ‘prematurely’ due to stress.

‘Right now the feedback I get from naval families is that the maintenance is very poor - I have heard that too often from too many naval families for this situation to be a one-off,’ said Cllr Vernon-Jackson, who is the city’s armed forces champion.

‘I have heard stories of people coming back from deployment and their partners saying “I can’t cope with this any longer, I need you to leave the navy now - I want an ordinary life”.

‘That stress is what is causing so many people to leave the navy. That’s something we as a council want to try and stop.’

Mr Bell from the RNRMC appealed for the MoD to consider opening a dialogue with the city council.

He said: ‘If you have housing stock and you allow people to rent it you have an obligation to them to look after it properly

’There’s a frustration about the level of service that is given. People recognise that they’re in service family accommodation but you do expect something that you’re paying rent for to be looked after properly and you do expect a service that if you have a problem that is going to deal with.

‘The people I talk to do find the current situation very frustrating and sometimes pretty inadequate.’

He added: ‘If there was something like a Portsmouth City Council solution, however that’s done, where it seems to me that people are satisfied with that then why can’t this be done elsewhere in the public sector?’

Asked if the council could realistically look after potentially up to 5,000 more military homes on top of its current stock, Cllr Vernon-Jackson insisted: ‘Yes, we could cope really easily.

‘We took over looking after Gosport’s housing. This would be about the same sort of number. This would be easy for us to do.’

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation within the MoD is responsible for managing and improving it stock of almost 50,000 military homes. It contracted the role to Amey in 2018.

The MoD insisted Amey was meeting key performance and maintenance targets, with a spokeswoman adding: ‘There are no plans to delegate responsibility or funding for defence housing outside the MoD.’

An Amey spokeswoman added: ‘Amey maintains over 49,000 service family homes across the UK on behalf of the MoD and our 24-hour customer services team works extremely hard to ensure our armed forces and their families get the homes they deserve.

‘Since Amey took over the contract in January 2018 service levels have improved significantly. We continue to work closely with our client and our customers to ensure this improvement continues.’

However the MoD said it had no plans to look at renegotiating the contract either in part or full.