The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is having a “devastating impact on communities” by selling off land that could be used for housing, according to one of the largest trade unions in Britain.
PCS – which has 200,000 members and represents civil servants – told The Ferret that by selling off its properties, the MoD “contradicts” a promise to invest in communities. In reply, the MoD argued that it still holds “sufficient homes in Scotland” and any “surplus” properties were ”often sublet to civilian tenants” to benefit taxpayers.
We recently revealed the 151 Scottish properties that were sold for £21 million by the MoD between 2009 and 2019. These included housing, farms, estates, barracks, parks, airfields and other land. The MoD did not reveal who it sold the properties to.
The MoD is one of Scotland’s largest landowners, with 153,000 hectares of land used for training, accommodation and operational planning, according to a 2020 report. This is around two per cent of Scotland’s total land mass.
MoD rules on land sales “require government departments, under certain circumstances, to offer back surplus land to the former owner or the former owner’s successors at the current market value”. The MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation “is obliged” to consider whether these rules apply to its surplus sites.
In a February report, PCS was scathing about the MoD’s asset management. “As a major landowner the MoD has sought to fill the funding gap by selling off estate, but the process has been fraught with claims of incompetence and corruption”, the union said. “While selling off of such lands are restricted by a range of government rules, nonetheless the scandals associated with MoD housing and land development are serious.”
It highlighted 2018 findings from the UK Government’s National Audit Office (NAO) that the MoD had lost up to £4.2bn in 1996 through the sell-off of 55,000 service family homes, which later increased in value.
The NAO report found that the government also risked paying billions of pounds to a private equity fund, managed by the offshore tycoon Guy Hands, the Guardian reported. This was in a new negotiation over renting back the estate to accommodate servicemen and women. The Guardian further reported in 2018 that property firms had made millions of pounds by buying MoD land and applying for planning permission, before selling on the sites.
A PCS spokesperson told The Ferret: “PCS has set out the particularly devastating impact this is having on housing and the local people who lose out in areas where sites are sold off. We have also raised serious concerns about whether the MoD is doing enough to ensure value for money for the taxpayer in their decisions to sell-off their sites.”
The MoD stressed that it remained committed to long-term investment in Scottish industry and in 2020, had spent over £2bn on Scottish businesses which supported over 12,400 jobs.
“The MoD retains sufficient homes in Scotland for current and future known demands in addition to a small management margin of void properties”, said a spokesperson. “Where properties are surplus to requirements they are often sublet to civilian tenants to secure value for the taxpayer.”