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Support with a potent force

27 April 2012

The £2.2bn 35-year PFI deal between the Ministry of Defence and the PFI consortium was one of the largest deals of its kind when it was signed back in 2004. It continues to evolve and deliver as a partnership, and won the Partners in Secure facilities Award at the PFM Awards in 2011. Here is a review of the award-winning project

16 Air Assault Brigade is the British Army's premier rapid response formation. With 8000 personnel, it is the largest brigade in the British Army. Its structure makes it highly flexible and capable, providing air assault infantry, parachute battalions, signals, pathfinders, attack and utility aviation, artillery, engineers, armoured recce capability, logistic and equipment support, medical and provost capabilities.

In combination with offensive air support, air transport and support helicopters, the Brigade is a light, adaptable and potent force. It remains at high readiness as the UK's Airborne Task Force; ready to deploy anywhere in the world at short notice.

The PFI contract – worth over £2 billion and to run for 35 years – was one of the largest deals of its kind in Europe at the time of signing, February 2004. The parties involved in the construction and running of the PFI are the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and a consortium of private investors who had successfully bid to redevelop and service the Garrison.

Working in Partnership

RMPA Services plc (RMPA) is the special purpose company formed by the consortium made up of the investment arms of Sodexo, Atkins, Sir Robert McAlpine and InfraRed (Infrastructure) Capital Partners. The clearly defined contractual structure sees RMPA meeting the MOD’s requirements through sub-contracts, with Sodexo providing the hard and soft FM services and logistics. The new and refurbished buildings were built and renovated by Sir Robert McAlpine.

The primary aim of the contract is to provide first class, serviced, working and living accommodation for more than 4700 military and civilian staff to improve their quality of life in the 21st century. Redevelopment of what was a predominately brown field site took place in two phases with the first completed in August 2006 and the second in August 2008, both phases were completed ahead of schedule. This involved the construction of 136 new and refurbished buildings including living accommodation, technical areas and office facilities that have transformed the Garrison.

The sheer scale and length of the project means that it is vital for the consortium partners to work collaboratively – an approach taken from the outset. All have committed to “improving the quality of daily life” for those in the defence community at Colchester Garrison and to work closely together to ensure efficiency, quality and accountability.

This has been achieved by regularly programmed meetings at all levels between the consortium, the MOD and the service partners to ensure that no issue gets out of hand and any potential changes are handled correctly. To date this arrangement has proved highly effective.

Sodexo has been providing support services to the MOD since 1985 and, prior to the PFI contract, was already working at the old Colchester Garrison providing catering and cleaning services. However, the current contract with RMPA reaches well beyond the original contract it replaced. Sodexo Defence has become a life-management company for Colchester Garrison, taking on additional business that is customarily carried out by the MOD, and integrating civilians and military personnel to ensure the smooth running of daily life.

Sodexo Defence employees, of whom there are around 550 on site, are now responsible for a comprehensive portfolio of soft FM services including: hotel services, cleaning, administrative support, furniture supply and maintenance, security services, families’ housing, accommodation stores, Central Production Unit (food), Quartermaster Stores and sports centre management.

Sodexo Defence also runs all retail facilities including: three café bars, vending services, five convenience stores (kiosks to a supermarket), hairdresser, dry cleaners and the Musket Club, a pub.

Specialist soft FM services, including fleet management and transport, fuel products and catering maintenance in the retail areas, are now subcontracted to Sodexo Technical Services with Sodexo Defence responsible for their management. Sodexo Horticultural Services are also employed at Colchester to deliver grounds maintenance services.

Innovation and achievement

Sodexo Defence has successfully spearheaded new, innovative ways of working with the MOD at Colchester to help develop long and lasting relationships with its client and wider customers.

The Central Production Unit (CPU) is unique to Colchester Garrison and has been built and equipped to manage and produce a large proportion of the food delivered to the individual mess kitchens on site. Designed by Sodexo’s PFI project team, it provides a centralised facility to receive, store, prepare, produce and despatch a range of fresh, chilled and frozen dishes to the various messes and finishing kitchens.

The CPU at present offers a range of over 150 dishes and work is ongoing with the development of new dishes to meet the ever changing needs of the client. All new product development is done after consultation with the senior military chefs. The average monthly production volume can vary between 4.5 tonnes to 16.5 tonnes dependant on troop movements. There are currently 25 personnel (both military and Sodexo employees) working in the unit.

Sodexo Defence runs a centralised Quartermaster operation from a new purposely designed 2,500m2 warehouse. It consolidates, under one roof, specific tasks previously provided by seven separate Unit Quartermasters and is staffed by a manager, five administration staff and 18 customer service, warehousing and labouring staff.

The services provided include; receipt and issue of military clothing, management of unaccompanied baggage, miscellaneous stores accounting, receipt and issue of paint, the management of local community and authority official activities equipment (flag poles, saluting dais, barriers etc), a storekeeper, labourer and handyman service.

The Quartermaster Service also has responsibility for the delivery of laundry, dry cleaning, tailoring, footwear repair, pest control, window cleaning and kitchen deep cleaning subcontracts.

Sodexo Defence also provides Sports Centre services and has responsibility for the administration, management and manpower support to the gymnasium facility. Under the Sodexo brand Healthworks, the services cover full facilities management, booking management, life-guarding, equipment provision and servicing, cleaning and vending.

The gymnasium is open to the military community and currently 60 civilian organisations, which are managed in conjunction with the local council bringing much needed benefit to the local community.

The facilities provide a range of sports amenities including; football, cricket, rugby tennis, squash, all weather pitches, gym facilities, swimming, physical fitness and athletics. The 25 metre swimming pool is available to and used by local schools and clubs including Phoenix disabled swimmers who participate in the Paralympics.

Future Innovations

Furniture Life-Cycling
Sodexo has also recently taken on the management and life-cycling of furniture throughout the Garrison, some 75,000 pieces. Key expertise has been retained by Sodexo and a full condition survey has recently been completed.

[smaller x-head] Integrated Catering (Pay As You Dine), Retail and Leisure
In conjunction with the Military and in support of military policy, Sodexo is working with the MOD and RMPA to implement Pay As You Dine (PAYD) across the establishment with a completion target date of November 2013. This will involve an enormous amount of training and promotional work, jointly, by and for Sodexo and military personnel at all levels within their respective organisations.


Sodexo aspires to make responsible business practice part of everyday business through its sustainability strategy through to 2020, the “Better Tomorrow Plan”. The plan sets out 14 commitments to protect the environment, improve nutrition, health and wellness and support for local communities.

Sodexo brings sustainable supply chain and green product credentials to its work wherever possible. At Colchester Garrison, for instance, where staff clean around 50,000,000m2 per year, it uses the most eco-friendly products provided by Ecolab in all of its operations.

Sodexo Defence employees are regular supporters of charity and community initiatives, including Sodexo’s STOP Hunger campaign to tackle poor nutrition in local communities and provide a focus for Sodexo’s community related activities.

Matthew Pease-Watkin, Colchester contract director for Sodexo Defence, said: “At Sodexo we are committed to the PFI both as an FM services provider and as an equity investor. Involvement at the earliest stages of design enabled us to provide valuable input on the most practical and most efficient way to deliver our services, tailoring these to meet individual requirements. Our success at Colchester Garrison is testament to the hard work and expertise of all our employees, and a strong and open relationship with our client and customers.”

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