I thank the Secretary of State for sight of his statement. We on the Labour Benches recognise that the requirements of the defence estate will change, and that there is a need to modernise to reflect that. The Government are right to seek to restructure the estate to ensure that we optimise our military capability and deliver value for money for the British taxpayer. The changes proposed in the report are very considerable in scale, and there is a real need to ensure that they are delivered in a way that does not cause undue challenges to our forces and their families.
The closing of so many bases will affect the livelihoods of a very significant number of people. The potential impact on communities with a long garrison history such as the City of York will be far-reaching: servicemen and women and their families will be required to move, and civilian staff will face redeployment. In the meantime, many face gnawing uncertainty, as the exact relocation of their base has not yet been decided.
Will the Secretary of State tell us how the Ministry of Defence will be consulting with all stakeholders? What will he do to minimise the period of uncertainty for all those concerned? What help and support will be given to employees who are not able to move?
The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Government’s record on achieving value for money when disposing of public land. Will the Secretary of State set out how he will safeguard the public purse by ensuring the best possible price for taxpayers, and what commercial expertise will he bring in? Given the need to protect the defence budget, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury about how much of the money realised by the sale of MOD assets will actually be retained by the MOD?
Finally, the Government have made much of releasing publicly owned land on which to build new homes, but we know that the Government’s record on house building has not matched the rhetoric of their promises. Will the Secretary of State assure us that the 55,000 houses that he says will be built on former MOD land during this Parliament will be located in areas where there are housing shortages, and that they will be homes that people can genuinely afford to rent or buy?