From Private Eye No 1308 (24 Feb - 8 Mar 12) Mortar attack THE government's much-heralded "armed forces covenant" is already being broken by the failure to address the dismal condition of military families' homes, the Commons defence select committee has heard. While the covenant was brought on to the statute book last year with great fanfare - David Cameron declaring that it was "now part of the law of our land and the value we place on our armed forces is clear for all to see" - the Ministry of Defence was announcing first cuts and then, from 2013, a three-year "pause" in funding upgrades of dilapidated accommodation. This means clapped-out kitchens and bathrooms and endemic damp problems will stay. Having described how forces personnel see housing as "a staunch pillar of the covenant", the chief executive of the Army Families Federation, Julie McCarthy, told Colchester Lib Dem MP Sir Bob Russell that "in terms of housing, it is probably fair to say that most families feel [the covenant] is failing". Dawn McCafferty, chair of the RAF Families Federation, reported how, when the funding pause was announced just months after the covenant, "we got feedback immediately from families to say 'that's the covenant broken, then'." The spending freeze will immediately save the defence budget amounts in the low tens of millions per year - peanuts next to, say, the £14bn spent on equipment. In the long run, as housing deteriorates, many suspect it will prove a false economy anyway. But that's not the only absurdity. Military accommodation can be upgraded at public expense - but only when the military no longer uses it. Russell has pointed out that housing on his Colchester patch has been sold by the company that owns service families' accommodation, Annington Homes, to a local housing association that has upgraded it for social housing tenants using money from the Department for Communities and Local Government budget. This might be reasonable in isolation, but it's galling to military families living in worse housing on the other side of the road. Annington, meanwhile, sails on. As Eye 1303 reported, chief executive James Hopkins trousered £2,632,000 (over two "Hesters") last year for doing very little apart from managing a captive portfolio of houses and selling a few, while two of his colleagues shared £3.3m. By siphoning its ample profits offshore as interest payments to its private equity investors, Annington itself pays no tax. Whether the defence select committee takes a closer look at broken covenants for some and unimaginable riches for others will depend on chairman James Arbuthnot - which poses a dilemma. In 1996 he was the junior minister, under defence secretary Michael Portillo, who was given the task of flogging the defence housing estate to Annington!