MPs should probe why the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has to pay almost £80,000 in indemnity costs for failing to disclose information over the privatisation of the MoD firefighters, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Wednesday 20 March).

The bill arises from a High Court case involving outsourcing giant Serco which wanted the contract to manage the Defence Fire and Rescue Services (DFRS) which provide cover on MoD sites. Its rival bidder was Capita.

Capita was awarded the 12-year contract, worth £1.1bn, last summer, but Serco lodged a legal challenge claiming that the MoD had failed to disclose the relevant information over the evaluation process.

Mr Justice Fraser awarded Serco £79,274 in indemnity costs, as the MoD had ‘not ‘begun to grapple’ with its obligations until ‘an extraordinarily late stage’. The MoD’s conduct had ‘fallen well outside the norm’.

The legal tussle between Serco and the MoD over the firefighters’ contract will continue at a court hearing scheduled for April 2020. The start of the Capita contract has been suspended pending the outcome of this case

Unite regional officer Caren Evans said: “Unite has been strongly opposed to the privatisation of these services at MoD bases as it raises serious concerns for national security.

“The continued legal wrangling is causing unnecessary uncertainty and stress to the dedicated workforce, and also delaying the procurement of new vehicles and equipment the firefighters so urgently need. 

“The High Court case that saw the MoD having to shell out nearly £80,000 of taxpayers’ cash in indemnity costs is yet another reason why the plug needs to be pulled on this controversial, decade-long saga. Debt-laden Capita is not a fit organisation to manage this contract.

“Time and time again, the flawed outsourcing model, as highlighted by recent events at Carillion and Interserve, has been shown not to be value for money for the taxpayer, and detrimental to the pay and employment conditions of the respective workforces.     

“We will be asking the Labour defence team to probe the MoD culture that sparked this High Court case and left the taxpayer to pick up the costs that could have been avoided if the MoD had been more open and transparent.”   

Unite has repeatedly pointed out that the DFRS privatisation will lead to job losses at the same time as local authority fire services have also experienced cuts to staff and the closure of fire stations, many of them in rural areas where MoD bases are situated.


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.