Officers mess

From Private Eye no 1230 20 Feb 2009

So desperate is the government to cling to its £12bn PFI scheme to privatise defence training, involving the construction of a huge new "defence academy" in South Wales, it has happily replaced the building company with ...a caterer!

The deal was originally lined up with Metrix, a consortium owned 50/50 by technology company Qinetiq and property developer Land Securities. On this dream ticket " Metrix achieved the highest technical score" and was named "preferred bidder".

When Land Securities withdrew in December because of delays and cost overruns, the Ministry of Defence scrambled around desperately for a replacement. As the deal requires the owners to stump up hundreds of millions in hard to come by capital, only one firm came forward: French caterer Sodexo. The MoD bit its hand off without apparently considering whether this affected the "highest technical" qualities it was once so keen on.

The defence training project was intended in the words of former defence minister Derek Twigg , to "focus on how best to improve our accommodation and training facilities, and meet our commitments following the review by Nicholas Blake QC [into the deaths of five trainees at Deepcut] to improve support, welfare and well being of our trainees". Which makes Sodexo an odd choice. In 2006 Harmondsworth immigration centre, run by Sodexo subsidiary Kalyx was condemned by prisons inspector Anne Owers for "failing to provide a safe and stable environment"

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