HC Deb 23 March 1987 vol 113 cc2-4W
Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is yet in a position to make a statement on the future of military schools of music.

Mr. Freeman

My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) announced in July 1984 that a defence school of music would be formed at Deal, combining there the present separate music schools of the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Subsequently, however, a number of uncertainties arose, not least in relation to the cost of creating a DSM, and following the publication of the 11th report from the Committee of Public Accounts Session 1985–86, my noble Friend the then Minister for Defence Support announced on 12 February 1986 in another place that the Ministry of Defence was setting in hand, with the assistance of consultants, a thorough review of all the options for training service musicians, including rentention of the present arrangements. Arthur Young was awarded the contract for this study in March 1986.

Arthur Young submitted its report in July 1986. In addition valuations of the relevant sites were obtained from independent firms of surveyours, who consulted officers of the planning authorities concerned. In the light of this information, consideration has since been given to how service musicians should be trained in future.

The consultants' report shows that the estimated cost, on a discounted cash flow basis, of keeping the existing three separate schools of music—at Deal for the Royal Marines, at Kneller hall for the Army and at Uxbridge for the RAF—is £56.85 million, over a 15-year period and that, on the same basis, the estimated cost of a DSM at Deal is £51.25 million. A DSM at Deal thus offers a saving of a net present value of £5.6 million over 15 years compared with the status quo. None of the other options considered, such as a DSM at Eastney barracks in Portsmouth or at Redford barracks in Edinburgh or rebuilding a school at Deal for the Royal Marines, offers any worthwhile saving over the cost of the status quo.

The above figures do not include provision for the optional additional facilities of a drill shed, bandstand and concert hall, although some of these facilities are at the existing schools of music. The total estimated cost of these facilities at a combined school is £500,000 to £1.5 million, depending on whether a concert hall is provided by converting an existing building or constructing a new one. The consultants considered that a DSM at Deal was the cheapest way of providing these facilities.

The consultants also reviewed the social factors such as employment issues which Ministers took into account when they made the original decision in 1984. They reported that these were not of major significance but marginally favoured a DSM at Deal.

In all our consideration of this complex issue we have had in mind the effect on service morale of abandoning proven and respected schools of music in favour of creating a joint establishment which might not in the end show itself to be responsive to particular single service needs. This factor is not a new one: of its nature it is intangible and unquantifiable but, however indefinable, we recognise it is of much significance and has to be considered against the opportunity of financial advantage in a single school of music offered by the prospect of savings both from the disposal of land no longer needed and in operating costs.

The financial benefits, however, would arise in the longer term and to secure these savings a capital investment of nearly £10 million would be needed. If the scheme went ahead straight away, these costs would be likely to fall in 1990–91 and 1991–92, and while the DSM at Deal would offer the prospect of long-term savings, over the first five years it would involve additional expenditure of nearly £8 million at net present value over the status quo. Moreover, in any project of this kind there is bound to be some uncertainty about the final outcome in respect of both expenditure and savings.

The background against which the short term impact of investment in the DSM at Deal has had to be considered is that, as was indicated in the 1987 public expenditure White Paper, the defence budget is declining in real terms. The overall budgetary position now is therefore significantly different from that which existed at the time of the original decision in 1984. There are now many more competing demands within the defence programme for the available resources. To accommodate the early capital expenditure which would be needed at Deal, high priority items already in the defence programme would have to be postponed or forgone.

Whether in these circumstances to proceed with the DSM at Deal is a finely balanced judgment, but we have concluded that the savings that the scheme would eventually produce are not so large as to justify setting aside the effect on service morale and the measures that would have to be taken in order to find the necessary short term capital at a time of general budgetary constraint. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has decided therefore not to form a defence school of music at Deal and that the training of service musicians should accordingly continue to be carried out where it is undertaken now. This decision will enable us to proceed with the disposal of the sites at Eastney and Redford barracks, Edinburgh and to consider how best to make effective use of the MOD land and buildings at Deal for the continued use of the Royal Marines.