Private school fees for armed forces personnel cost £83m-a-year (and the MOD’s £8,500 snacks bill really takes the biscuit)
- School fee spending reach five-year high in 2019, rising by £3million in a year
- Plans to scrap Continuity of Education Allowance a decade ago were scrapped
- FOI found members of the Armed Forces wasted over a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayer cash after dropping out or failing higher education courses
School fees for the children of Armed Forces personnel cost taxpayers £83million last year, according to a Daily Mail investigation.
Spending reached a five-year high last year after rising by £3million in just 12 months.
The Continuity of Education Allowance ensures children of military personnel do not have their schooling disrupted when their parents move around the world.
Some go to elite institutions such as Eton and Harrow which charge tens of thousands of pounds a year.
According to a Daily Mail investigation, school fees for the children of Armed Forces personnel cost taxpayers £83million last year
Ministers backed down on plans to scrap the scheme a decade ago, instead encouraging service families to seek out cheaper boarding schools.
But figures uncovered by the Mail and the Taxpayers’ Alliance reveal the Ministry of Defence’s bill is creeping up again. It funded 4,420 places at a cost of £83million over the most recent financial year – the highest total since 2015.
At the same time the analysis by the School Cuts coalition found funding per pupil in 80 per cent of non-fee paying schools in England has fallen in real terms since 2015.
Military families claiming the education allowance for an independent school must make a contribution equal to at least 10 per cent of the fees, according to official guidance. The Government pays the rest up to a maximum of £7,828 a term.
More than 40 service parents sent their children to Cheltenham College, where fees cost up to £13,000 a term for boarders. The MoD confirmed its bill was £1,625,950. The college offers discounts on fees of between 15 and 25 per cent depending on the rank of the parent.
A further £486,780 was spent on sending 15 children to Fettes College in Edinburgh, Scotland’s most expensive private school.
A handful also attended both Eton and Harrow, costing the taxpayer £116,820 and £163,745 respectively.
Diplomats are also entitled to the CEA and the Foreign Office forked out £14million last year.
A handful also attended both Eton (pictured) and Harrow, costing the taxpayer £116,820 and £163,745 respectively
Of this, more than £2.2million went to the most prestigious schools. Seven officials sent their children to Eton – where fees of £14,167 a term were the highest in the country last year – at a cost to the taxpayer of £375,477.
A further four sent pupils to Winchester, which had the second highest fees, at a cost of £203,401.
A Government spokesman said last night: ‘In order to represent UK interests across the world, members of the military and diplomatic services can be asked to move frequently during their career, sometimes at very short notice.
‘In these cases, we offer support to all personnel, regardless of rank, to help maintain continuous education and provide stability for children.’
A freedom of information request has also found that members of the Armed Forces wasted over a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayer cash after dropping out or failing higher education courses.
Hundreds of personnel were studying in higher education last year, including postgraduate degrees in battlespace technology and guided weapons systems.
But the request found 53 individuals either ‘failed or did not complete’ their studies – costing the public purse £266,590.
The Ministry of Defence said the dropout rate was less than 0.5 per cent and compared ‘extremely well’ to the civilian sector, which averages between 6 and 8 per cent.
A further four sent pupils to Winchester, which had the second highest fees, at a cost of £203,401
A spokesman said the figure could also include personnel who had put their courses on hold and might go back to finish them at a later date.
Figures reveal the majority of the 1,409 individuals studying in higher education were Army personnel. Some 652 attended a defence academy near Swindon, where serving personnel go to ‘develop the intellectual edge needed for success on operations and leadership in government’.
Partnered with King’s College London, its courses are ‘designed to unlock the cognitive skills of our students to expand their intellectual horizons and capacity’.
It did not work out for 29 students however who either failed or did not complete their course – costing the MoD £263,300.
The Royal Navy saw three individuals withdraw from their studies and another failed – costing a further £3,290. The MoD said many personnel withdrew from higher or further education courses after reaching a particular milestone, while many also went on to complete the qualification in the following one to two years.
A spokesman added: ‘The nature of military service often involves travel and relocation and it is occasionally necessary for students to postpone or cease their studies.’
Crumbs! £8,500 blown on nibbles to dunk in their tea
Hungry bosses at the Ministry of Defence upped spending on office biscuits by a third last year after plumping for a premium brand.
Officials snacked their way through more than £700 worth of Meredith and Drew chocolate chip, shortbread and oatmeal offerings during meetings every month.
Officials snacked their way through more than £700 worth of Meredith and Drew chocolate chip, shortbread and oatmeal offerings during meetings every month
Biscuits were reportedly banned from the main MoD office nearly a decade ago to help bring down the department’s ballooning budget. But they continued to be provided at Whitehall meetings.
Military chiefs scoffed £8,514 worth of biscuits in 2019, compared with £6,348 the previous financial year.
An MoD spokesman said: ‘Refreshments for meetings are part of the PFI contract. The biscuits are supplied by the contractor. Only when ordered, the biscuits are charged to the team.’
£25k PPE bill … for the Ukraine army
Military bosses gave £25,000 worth of PPE to the Ukrainian armed forces in May – when the NHS was having to rely on donations.
The Ministry of Defence sent 41,050 surgical face masks, respirators, and infrared thermometers to their Eastern European allies.
At the time, Helen Fazey, former deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Kiev, said: ‘Responding to Covid-19 is a challenge all countries share. This donation is one way in which we show solidarity between the UK and Ukraine.’
The £24,816 contract was won by British-based procurement specialists Crown Agents on May 20.
Military bosses gave £25,000 worth of PPE to the Ukrainian armed forces in May – when the NHS was having to rely on donations
A fortnight earlier a British Medical Association survey of 16,000 doctors in England found 48 per cent were having to source their own PPE or rely on a donation.
At the time, the UK had more than 2,500 new virus cases a day and the Ukraine had 260. An MoD spokesman said: ‘Following an emergency request for assistance… purchases were made in-country and had no impact on UK supply chains.’
£34,000 wasted on 17 cancelled flights
The Ministry of Defence lost £34,500 on plane tickets flying officials to the US after an event was called off at short notice, it can be revealed.
The department had bought 17 non-refundable tickets – at more than £2,000 each – because they were cheaper. There had been ‘no expectation’ the joint exercise would be cancelled, it said.
The wasted air fares were among several MoD spending errors totalling nearly £1million uncovered in Freedom of Information requests by the Taxpayers’ Alliance.
It is not known when exactly the joint exercise was cancelled during the most recent financial year, which ended nearly a fortnight after the first lockdown began.
However, several such events were called off as the pandemic began to take hold, including a military exercise in Norway involving 2,000 UK troops in March.
£12,500 TO FLY RAF CHIEF TO SPACE MEETING
A former RAF chief claimed £12,500 for flights to the US for a one-hour appearance on a panel at a space travel conference.
Sir Stephen Hillier flew business-class for the four-day symposium in Colorado Springs – before cutting the trip short and returning first-class.
The taxpayer-funded trip in April 2019 came just a year after the Air Chief Marshal urged the Government to raise its military spending. He said: ‘If you don’t give me resources, you’re going to have to make compromises.’
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson yielded to pressure over the defence budget as he vowed to invest an extra £16.5billion in the Armed Forces over the next four years.
A Mail audit of the military top brass’s expenses reveals the most expensive plane ticket was a return flight to Los Angeles costing £8,852 for Air Vice-Marshal Simon Rochelle.
Sir Stephen Hillier flew business-class for the four-day symposium in Colorado Springs, pictured in 2018 second from right, – before cutting the trip short and returning first-class
Similar direct flights in economy class can be bought from £350 in advance to £650 last minute, according to price comparison site SkyScanner. It was one of five flights he took – all in business class – across six months last year costing more than £28,000.
General Sir Nick Carter, head of the Armed Forces, also travelled business-class on three flights to the US and Pakistan, costing the taxpayer £12,432.
Sir Stephen’s expenses reveal how he travelled in luxury to the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in April last year – three months before he retired.
He was booked on a return flight in business class from London Heathrow costing £5,583. The price had been discounted for those who serve in the Forces. The four-day event was advertised as a ‘forum to discuss, address and plan for future achievements in space’.
On the second day, Sir Stephen – who was paid £190,000 a year – appeared on a six-strong panel of air chiefs across the world between 2.30pm and 3.30pm. The MoD said he also met ‘senior attendees from allied nations’. He was booked on a return flight but cut the trip short due to ‘extreme adverse weather’.
General Sir Nick Carter, head of the Armed Forces, (pictured) also travelled business-class on three flights to the US and Pakistan, costing the taxpayer £12,432
He had to ensure he was ‘able to continue to meet important commitments back in the UK’, a spokesman said. A new ticket costing £6,945 first-class took his total flight costs for the two-day trip to £12,528.
The chairman of the Commons defence committee questioned why Sir Stephen needed to be ‘bumped up to first class’ for an emergency return. Tobias Ellwood said: ‘It doesn’t exhibit the frugal behaviour that we’d expect in the current climate.’
Guidance on expenses for senior staff – civilian and military – is to find the cheapest and most cost-effective means of travel as possible’, according to an MoD spokesman. However, they are allowed to use business class if the journey time is over four hours and there is a ‘pressing business need’.
Overall, 43 business and first-class flights were taken by MoD bosses and army chiefs between April and September last year – costing £172,757.
Some fares were up to 25 times more expensive than if they had been bought in economy class.
The MoD said it was ‘committed to delivering value for money. We routinely publish our expenditure to maintain transparency’.
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