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Defence Headquarters ditches vending machines to save cash

MoD staff are keeping a stiff upper lip in face of deficit-busting 'caffeine cuts' to save £0.5m a year, according to a report on

It has lost warships and aircraft over recent months, and is poised to axe thousands of soldiers, sailors and civilian staff. Now yet more indignity has befallen the Ministry of Defence, where cost-cutting is biting deep.

Defying Napoleon's maxim that an army marches on its stomach, the department has got rid of most of the coffee and food vending machines from its Whitehall headquarters, leaving staff with a yomp across the building to those that remain, or a time-consuming (and costly) trip to one of the cafes along the Embankment.

Withdrawal of the machines has hardly lifted the mood within the MoD, which is having to juggle fighting conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya, as well as the redundancy programmes for all three services, without the reviving qualities of easy access to caffeine, chocolate and crisps. "It will be the loo roll next," said one MoD insider, who said that queues were now common around the few machines that survived the cull.

In the grand scheme of things, staff recognise the disappearance of the machines is hardly significant, but it does underline the parlous state of the MoD's finances, which came under renewed scrutiny this week when it emerged the department may have to announce further cuts in personnel and equipment unless it can find ways of curbing spending.

Hard choices may have to be made over the summer when findings of the three-month study are expected. A complete withdrawal of machine-made cappuccinos and cafe lattes is now feared, a possibility that will make late-night military planning even more arduous than before.

"You only miss these things when they are gone," said the worker. "I've thought about bringing in a flask but that might look a bit desperate. It hasn't got to that stage yet."

Unions say morale within the building can be judged by the number of civilian staff who applied for voluntary redundancy this year – 16,000, four times greater than the number the department can pay for in this year's programme.

But military types are not the sort to moan, and most are stoic about the "caffeine cuts", with at least one general reporting a significant and pleasing drop in weight since the crisp machine disappeared.

The MoD admitted the contract for vending machines had been changed and that it was part of a cost-cutting exercise. "As part of a package of measures to reduce the costs of catering provision in the MoD head office, the number of vending machines has been radically reduced," said a spokesman. "Overall savings are in the order of £0.5m per annum."

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