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Modern Army

15 September 2007

Central Food Production Unit

Transformation of the Colchester Garrison under a £2bn PFI provides facilities and services to support an the Army’s rapid reaction force. The facilities management partner, Sodexho, provides more than just food for the Army to march on

THE NEWEST AND LARGEST BRIGADE IN THE BRITISH ARMY, 16 Air Assault Brigade, is a rapid reaction force made up of air assault infantry, parachute troops and helicopters. In short, it is the cutting edge of the modern military machine - and to compliment its state-of-the-art image, the Brigade boasts an ultra-modern home at Colchester Garrison.

The shiny, new facilities were borne out of an historic agreement which was signed in February 2004 between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and a consortium of private partners who had successfully bid to redevelop and service Colchester Garrison. The PFI contract - worth over £2bn and to run for 35 years – is one of the largest deals of its kind in Europe.

The task to provide state-of-the-art working and living accommodation, such as army messes, cafés and local amenities, for more than 4,200 military and civilian staff, included the construction of over 130 buildings that has transformed the garrison. Gone are the tiredlooking barracks, and in their place stand accommodation, technical and office facilities, laid out campus style, with lines as sharp as the creases in any military dress uniform and angular good looks.

Managed by RMPA Services plc, the consortium is made up of Sodexho Defence, Atkins, Sir Robert McAlpine and HSBC Infrastructure, with Sodexho Defence providing the soft FM services at the garrison. Sodexho Defence has been providing support services to the MoD since 1985, and operates in all three of the armed forces across 80 locations.

Sodexho Defence was contracted to work at Colchester Garrison before the revamp to provide catering and cleaning services. These services are still a substantial aspect of this contract making up a quarter of its operation, but Sodexho is now also responsible for the provision of a comprehensive portfolio of soft FM services at the 185 hectare site.

As John Miller, Colchester contract director, Sodexho Defence, explains, “It is the soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade that will benefit most from Sodexho’s involvement in the project. The PFI reaches well beyond the catering and cleaning contract it replaced and has transformed Sodexho Defence into a whole-life, management company with opportunities to take on additional business customarily carried out by the MoD at this site. At the site, civilians and military personnel are fully integrated to ensure the smooth running of daily life.”

Sodexho Defence successfully mobilised the project on June 1 2004. According to Miller, “The change from running a multi-activity contract worth £750,000 to being an integral part of a PFI worth over £2.2bn was almost seamless with the most noticeable difference being in the agreements governance.”

Phase 1 of the new build was delivered in early August 2006, ten weeks ahead of schedule. Sodexho Defence is responsible for all office and living accommodation and furniture, and has equipped almost 1,500 bedrooms to date. Much of this activity was carried out off-site in prefabricated modular accommodation units which were then manoeuvred into position to form part of the various military buildings for Garrison and Brigade troops.

The services directly supplied by Sodexho staff, of which there are around 500, include catering and mess management; accommodation and office cleaning; garrison amenities including gymnasia, a swimming pool and sports ground bookings; office support services; training support services; accommodation services including the provision of all furniture; and quartermaster services.

Services including transport and fuel products, window cleaning, security and kitchen maintenance, for example, are subcontracted to specialist firms with Sodexho responsible for their management. Sodexho Land Technology, though not part of Sodexho Defence, is employed by the hard FM contractor, Atkins, to deliver the grounds maintenance service over much of the 185 hectare estate. The contract requires Sodexho Defence to self-audit the provision of its services with over 50,000 audit checks being carried out each month.

Sodexho Defence developed new and innovative ways of working with the Army at Colchester to help develop long and lasting relationship with its client and customers. These include both a central food production unit (CPU) and a retail and leisure offer. Unique to Colchester is its CPU, which produces a large proportion of the food delivered to the individual mess kitchens on site where army personnel either regenerate CPU prepared products or cook the ingredients from fresh themselves. The construction of the Garrison CPU was completed and fitted out in accordance with designs developed by Foodesco Ltd in conjunction with the project team. The unit provides a centralised facility to receive, store, prepare, produce and despatch a range of fresh, chilled and frozen dishes or ingredients to the various messes or finishing kitchens. It is a new development for Sodexho Defence and represents a new way of operating in a UK military establishment. The initial production run is geared for some 7,500 meals daily with the potential to expand if necessary.

CPU manager, Roman Mackiewicz said, “Once the military requirements have been met, Sodexho can investigate the commercial potential for using any spare capacity to produce meals for local schools or hospitals too.”

Within the CPU, Sodexho Defence’s civilian staff work side by side with military personnel so key catering skills are maintained within the army, rather than relinquishing them completely to an outside contractor. Pre-prepared CPU prepared food is shipped to the various messes on site, again so that Army chefs can either use these products if ordered or cooked from fresh at the individual locations.

Since 2004, Sodexho Defence has also been active in the development of retail and leisure ventures within the barracks. This has resulted in an additional seven year contract worth £40m to introduce bars, cafes, shops and gaming facilities.

There are other initiatives where Sodexho adds value where possible. For example, the MoD takes on contractors to free up the troops to focus on peace-keeping and military operations. Previously, much of the service roles were fulfilled by army personnel, and the team at Colchester is trialing a career partnering programme. Miller explains, “Army personnel are not always in the battlefield, so through this programme, they can join us before or after their service, which can help them train in new skills.”

He concludes: “At Sodexho we are committed to the PFI both as an FM services provider and as an equity investor. Involvement at the earliest stages of design enables us to provide valuable input on the most practical and most efficient way to and deliver our services, tailoring these to meet individual requirements.”

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