THE BRITISH Army has been ordered to take an extended 25-day Christmas holiday in what is seen as an attempt to cut energy bills.

Soldiers have been told they have been granted an extra five days holiday over the festive season in recognition of their hard work during 2012.

Defence officials have ordered staff to take leave for 25 days between December 14 and January 7 as a thank you for their service during the London Olympics and Diamond Jubilee.

But the move has been criticised as an attempt to cut gas and electricity bills. The decision will mean all army barracks, including those at Catterick Garrison and York, will close for almost four weeks.

The extra holiday will allow buildings to be closed, cutting utility costs, and staff will have the option of working from home.

Speaking to a Sunday newspaper, one former army official, Richard Kemp, a former commander of UK ground forces in Afghanistan, said to an army at war it sent an “insulting and morale-sapping message that makes it entirely clear just where spending priorities do not lie”.

An army spokesman dismissed the suggestion that the extended leave was cost-cutting as “ridiculous” and it was awarded in recognition of the exceptionally busy year the army has had on operations and home.

He said the leave would not apply to personnel on supporting operations and there would be no impact on troops in Afghanistan.