Lieutenant General Richard Nugee CVO, CBE, Chief of Defence People (CDP) responds to our FAM Manifesto
[To view AFF’s thoughts, click the linked sections within the letter.]
Thank you for sharing the AFF’s Future Accommodation Model (FAM) Manifesto with me.
(1) FAM gives us an opportunity to modernise the way we provide accommodation to Service personnel – supporting them to live how they want to, not how Defence tells them they should. There is always a difficult balance to be struck between attractiveness of the offer to Service personnel, affordability of the model for the MOD, and the need to ensure personnel are able to deliver on operations. Listening to the views of the families you represent forms a key part of getting this balance right.
(2) The FAM proposals in the MOD’s focus groups and survey, and also in your own survey, were just that – proposals. Based on the feedback received from families and serving personnel we are already making changes. For example, we are now exploring an offer that would not differentiate based on where Service personnel wish to set down roots. And many of the most important and difficult questions remain up for debate. We are exploring options to retain different levels of Service Families Accommodation (SFA), including retaining it wherever there is demand; and no option would remove SFA completely. However, all options need to be assessed against the attractiveness, operational and affordability factors described above. I can assure you that concerns over Service ethos and operational effectiveness will not be swept under the rug in the blind pursuit of financial efficiency. But, while armed forces with no people or no operational capability are no use to anyone, the reality is that neither are armed forces with no money. Our personnel costs increase above the rate of inflation and must be controlled at a sustainable level if we are to afford the capability we need to defeat the threats we face. I believe there is a balance to be struck that can deliver what Defence needs for operations, represents a more attractive offer for the majority of current and future personnel, and remains affordable and sustainable into the future. These are not simple issues and the Service Chiefs will be a central part of the assessment and decision process.
That process must also reflect the fact that the needs of Defence, continue to change. By 2019 our Army will be almost entirely based in the UK and the size of the Regular Component estate is being reduced by 34%. As personnel become based in fewer, more concentrated sites, (3) it will be easier for them to buy a home within a daily commute of multiple postings; we want to enable personnel to meet their aspirations for both home ownership and accompanied service. In truth, we want personnel to live near to their place of work because geographic and family stability is good for them, good for the Army and good for Defence. But we want them to do this because it works for them, not because we are ‘forcing’ it.
A career in the Army will still be underpinned by the important principle of ‘service’, but I am determined that the career structure will make it possible for everyone to maximize their potential regardless of gender, background or orientation. This sort of flexibility will inevitably have a bearing on how we live as well as how we work. Defence will always require personnel to be mobile and must continue to support those who are asked to move, but where we can offer more stability, it is right that we do so. I understand that many families will not believe this until they see it – my own experience of decades of frequent moves are deeply ingrained – but this is the way Defence is heading and the way we accommodate our people needs to support this.
This year, the Defence Secretary and the Defence Board will begin to set out the long-term strategy for the accommodation offer. I can assure you that all of the issues you have raised are being actively examined and will be central considerations in that strategy – appended to this letter is a more detailed update on some of the work underway in the areas you raise in your manifesto. We have already made some key commitments on these – most notably that we will not cut the amount of money used to subsidise accommodation. Where entitlement stays the same, a rental property under FAM will cost the Service person broadly the same as the equivalent SFA; geographic variations in rent will be covered by the MOD.
The Armed Forces Covenant promises that those who serve, and their families, are treated fairly: whatever FAM ultimately looks like, it will seek to do this. But we want personnel to be supported not just where SFA is available, but to have the same choice as the rest of society to live near the schools they want their children to attend, or nearer their partner’s place of work, to pay a bit more to have a spare room so friends or parents can come to stay, or to live with a partner and children, even if they are not married. The demography of the UK is changing, and we need to reflect the society from which we are drawn. We have to broaden our recruiting base and inspire the next generation to serve in our armed forces; part of achieving this will be better integration with the civilian community.
As you noted in your letter, there are many different views in this discussion and (4) we recognise we must listen to all of these if we are to get this right. But at the final decision point, the end result will almost inevitably be a balance of competing priorities. I am grateful for your continued contribution to this debate.
Lt. Gen Richard Nugee CVO CBE
‘Support to secure appropriate, affordable and timely accommodation’. (5) I agree with your definition of ‘support’ as including sourcing accommodation when required, and think your use of the word ‘empowering’ is exactly right; we want and need to equip and empower service personnel with the necessary skills to get the accommodation that suits them, throughout their careers and on transition to civilian life. Personnel should decide what is ‘appropriate’ for them, rather than the MOD dictating that a bed in SLA or a certain type of house is what they need, but FAM will support them in this choice. We are exploring how welfare models can best support personnel who live away from the base (something that would not be new under FAM), (6) and how best we minimise disruption to education whilst giving families the chance to choose a school through letting them choose where to live.
Accommodation must remain affordable for Service personnel so we do not plan to cut the amount of money used to subsidise accommodation; savings must instead come from reducing the management overheads inherent in the current system. (7) Where entitlement stays the same, a rental property under FAM will cost the Service person broadly the same as the equivalent SFA and geographic variations in rent will be covered by the MOD.
Timeliness will be dependent on both the notice given to personnel, and the supply of housing in the local market. The Services have signed up to giving Service personnel 90 days’ notice of assignment moves, providing sufficient time to source a property. However, we recognise short-notice moves do happen and the MOD needs to provide additional support in these instances. Transition to FAM will not be rushed. We recognise there are few rental markets that could cope with hundreds of Service personnel or more suddenly wanting to rent a home. We are analysing housing markets and bases will transition to FAM only at a rate where there are sufficient properties for personnel to choose from, in some cases this will be ten years or more. We are also looking at options to increase housing stocks near to bases.
‘No existing cohort sees a reduction in their offer’. We want to move to a system that is based on need not rank and this will see some entitlements change. (8) However, we are looking at what transitional arrangements could be put in place to mitigate any negative impact on those already serving.
‘Principles of FAM applied to all directed postings overseas’. We are looking at how best to put in place the principles of FAM for overseas postings, but there are some practical limitations to this. Our ability to allow choice of where to live and who to live with when assigned overseas is, in some cases, restricted by security, agreements with host nations and local situations. Where we can, we aim to give personnel as much freedom as possible to choose how to live, but (9) we are unlikely to be able to apply the principles of FAM to all overseas locations.
‘Ensure that families’ views are considered.’ We can reassure you that families’ views are being considered: the Chiefs, including the Chief and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, met last week to discuss the results of the various consultations. We hope to continue our regular engagement with you and the other single Service Families Federations to ensure we hear your views. What is more challenging is hearing the views of those families who do not regularly engage with the Service community and who are less likely to benefit from the current accommodation system, but will also have views about how a future system could work for them.
- "FAM gives us an opportunity to modernise the way we provide accommodation to Service personnel…not how Defence tells them they should…" AFF welcomes this recognition that the traditional definition of a family can no longer be used to define the level of accommodation support that serving personnel need; however, to truly understand the implications of FAM, some concrete details around entitlement will be needed. Return to letter.
- "…The FAM proposals in the MOD’s focus groups and survey, and also in your own survey, were just that – proposals" It is encouraging to hear that no firm plans have been confirmed as yet and AFF will continue to work closely in this arena. We implore Defence to ensure that they keep a clear channel of communication open with families and serving personnel, in relation to FAM, so that the fear of the unknown does not cause unnecessary stress or worry to families. AFF will also be asking for clarity around whether families’ and serving personnel’s views will be sought on any new proposals put forward and would encourage serving personnel and their families to actively participate in the debate so that their voices can be heard. Return to letter.
- "…it will be easier for them to buy a home within a daily commute of multiple postings; we want to enable personnel to meet their aspirations for both home ownership and accompanied service…" Many of the areas where Defence has a large footprint are expensive and, without the assurance of no further reductions to the ‘offer’, the aspiration to buy cannot be matched to the ability to buy. Return to letter.
- "…and we recognise we must listen to all of these if we are to get this right…" AFF wholeheartedly applauds this statement; however, we mustn’t look to support the minority by impacting on the majority. Return to letter.
- "I agree with your definition of support…" Whilst we are encouraged to see that CDP agrees with our definition of support and wants to empower Service personnel with the skills to source appropriate accommodation, we are still concerned that not enough thought is being given to what support will be needed by those who, because of the demands of their jobs, won’t have the time to source appropriate accommodation. Return to letter.
- "… and how best to minimise disruption to education…" Whilst it is empowering to give families the necessary tools to allow for as little disruption as possible to their children’s education, ‘good’ schools tend to be found in areas where rental/house prices are high. We are, therefore, concerned that serving personnel and their families will be at a disadvantage, not advantage, as a result of FAM, as we know that salaries and allowances are unlikely to match housing prices and so families will be priced out of quality education for their children in the more expensive areas. Return to letter.
- "Where entitlement stays the same, a rental property under FAM will cost the Service person broadly the same as the equivalent SFA and geographic variations in rent will be covered by the MOD…" In principle, this is very encouraging and a step in the right direction. However, we do know that SFA properties are currently undergoing cost reviews and many (80%) are being banded at a higher rate. If FAM mirrors these costs, we know this will cause a huge financial strain on many families. Return to letter.
- "We are looking at what transitional arrangements could be put in place to mitigate impact on those already serving…" It is great that MOD wants to support more people, but we need to ensure it is not done at the cost of those already serving. No one’s offer should be reduced, therefore the 'transitional arrangements' that CDP mentions will be key in this, and we welcome more details as they become available. Back to letter.
- "… but we are unlikely to be able to apply the principles of FAM to all overseas locations." Whilst we understand that there are practical limitations applying FAM to overseas postings due to cultural and political sensitivities, we would advocate that it should be applied to all directed postings overseas, where feasible, to ensure that there is parity across the board for serving personnel. Return to letter.