By Ian Drury
Last updated at 11:28 PM on 23rd May 2011
Princess Anne’s husband has walked out of the Ministry of Defence and on to the board of a private company bidding to manage Armed Forces housing.
Retired Vice-Admiral Tim Laurence, 56, has become a non-executive director of the consultancy Capita Symonds.
The company hopes to win the highly lucrative contract to run the MoD’s property portfolio – which was Vice-Admiral Laurence’s former role at the ministry.
New job: Vice Admiral Laurence with the Princess Royal
He took up his new post this month and his decision has raised concerns about a possible conflict of interests. Unions say he is ‘cashing in’ on defence cuts.
The Defence Infrastructure Organisation is looking for a ‘strategic partner’ to help run its huge estate, which includes 48,000 homes for service families, military barracks, naval bases, depots, airfields and training areas and costs £2billion a year.
It has announced plans to save £1.2billion over the next four years by selling surplus land and buildings and other cost-cutting measures.
In February, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said more than 2,500 of the 7,000-strong brigade of construction and maintenance staff, responsible for the upkeep of barracks, would lose their jobs.
Controversially, Vice-Admiral Laurence oversaw the three-year programme which led to the formation of the DIO. He did so as chief executive of the MoD’s Defence Estates, which he left last summer and which was replaced by the DIO at the beginning of April.
The naval officer would have been closely involved in plans to rationalise
the MoD’s landholdings and property portfolio. Capita Symonds runs London’s
congestion charge and has won contracts to review NHS estates.
As the DIO’s partner it could charge for repairs to building and equipment, cleaning and catering, and making sure military facilities have power and water. The firm also plans to chase cash-strapped soldiers for rent more aggressively.
Cashing in: Tim Laurence has been accused of capitalising on the defence cuts
As chief executive of Defence Estates, Vice-Admiral Laurence would have been
on an annual salary of up to £130,000.
All industry appointments of senior civil servants and military staff are cleared by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, an independent body which reports to the Government.
An MoD spokesman said Vice-Admiral Laurence’s appointment had been ‘fully approved’ by the committee.
Jonathan Goring, managing director of CapitaSymonds, said: ‘Tim has already
supported and advised upon our response to the Government’s efficiency
I am delighted that we will be working together to ensure CapitaSymonds supports the Government in the most appropriate way, as well as providing guidance and challenge to our executive board.’
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace declined to comment but a royal courtier said: ‘Although his appointment has been approved by the relevant committee, we are concerned about “cashing in on cuts” headlines.’
Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell, who has repeatedly tackled the Government
over military housing because the Paratroop Regiment is based in his Colchester
constituency, said: ‘This raises serious concerns.
‘I’m sure the vice-admiral will be on a tidy crust for helping Capita with knowledge about the defence estate that he gained at the MoD. There are questions about whether this is right.’
Bernie Hamilton, national officer at the Unite union which represents DIO staff, said: ‘This stinks. It looks as if the gamekeeper has turned poacher and is cashing in on the cuts. A significant number of our members face redundancy and will be outraged to learn that this man is profiting from their misery. We believe it would be wrong if Tim Laurence were using insider knowledge of the MoD to help implement cuts and make money.’
The row follows the furore earlier this year over the Duke of York’s role as a trade envoy. Prince Andrew faced calls to quit after damaging revelations about his personal life, close friendship with a convicted paedophile and links to tyrannical regimes.