The Armed Forces Covenant should be at the centre of government
In its Report released today the Defence Committee makes recommendations to ensure that implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant continues to be driven from the centre of government. The Report recommends the creation of a new Ministerial post within the Cabinet Office with responsibility for the Covenant, along with a dedicated unit to monitor implementation and delivery.
The Report, which examines a range of themes emerging from the Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2016, recognises the breadth of policy areas that the Covenant encompasses, and that many of them, such as healthcare and education, lie outside of the remit of the Ministry of Defence. The principles which underlie the Armed Forces Covenant are applicable across society, and the Committee feels that a new ministerial post should reflect this.
The Report also addresses a number of policy areas raised in the 2016 Report where further action is required:
Healthcare – Better communication and awareness of the priority services that exist for veterans in the NHS need to be fostered among clinicians and among veterans themselves. The Government must continue to pursue measures which will embed the principles underlying the Covenant in the healthcare system. Specifically on veterans’ mental health, the particular barriers to care that continue to exist must be removed and targets should be introduced to bring down delays in referral and treatment.
Education and local services – Mobile Service families are still encountering difficulties in securing school places for their children outside of the normal admissions cycle. More widely, as the footprint of the Defence Estate becomes more concentrated, a thorough analysis of the capacity of local services to support increased numbers of Service personnel and their families must be undertaken.
Accommodation – There is some doubt whether improvements in repair and maintenance services have been sustained, and a range of independent surveys and assessments suggest that Service personnel are still dissatisfied with their accommodation. The Department should continue to consider its options with respect to the National Prime Contractor, CarillionAmey. Lessons should be learned from the problems which accompanied the implementation of the Combined Accommodation Assessment Scheme. Service personnel and their families are awaiting further announcements on the Future Accommodation Model with a sense of apprehension, so it is particularly important that the Department continues to consult and engage on this matter.
- The Corporate Covenant and the Community Covenant – Both the Corporate and Community Covenants have great potential to develop the links between the Armed Forces Community and other sectors of society. Greater engagement is necessary for the Department to develop a more reciprocal relationship with business and to ensure that an increasing number of local authorities have the core infrastructure necessary to implement the Covenant at a local level.
Dr Julian Lewis, Defence Committee chairman, said:
“The Armed Forces Covenant sets out the debt the country owes to those who serve in our Armed Forces. It ensures that both veterans and serving personnel receive the recognition and support they richly deserve. The Government is making good progress in meeting the Covenant’s obligations.
“However, greater focus is needed on providing the housing, education and healthcare services the Armed Forces community rightly expects. For example, encouraging soldiers to buy their own homes, yet making them uneconomic to let when their owners are posted away from home, shows a lack of joined-up thinking. There also needs to be greater consistency of services and support across the UK.
“The MoD is aware of the need for more work in these areas and I am confident that the Defence Committee in the next Parliament will continue to monitor all organisations’ compliance with their duties under the Covenant”.
[To read the full Report, click here.]
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The principles of the Armed Forces Covenant are enacted in law. Therefore, it is the responsibility of Government to ensure that they are being successfully communicated and implemented. This cannot be done by the Ministry of Defence alone. The breadth of the policy areas encompassed by the Armed Forces Covenant highlight the need for co-ordinated work across Government – not just within the MoD. We believe that such focus and delivery would be best served by a dedicated Minister for the Covenant, supported by a delivery office, and based at the heart of Government in the Cabinet Office.
We are pleased that progress is being made to deliver the Covenant’s obligations in respect of healthcare and education. However, the delivery of other priority services – including access to hospitals and schools admissions – remains patchy. These are key requirements which public services are supposed to supply. The onus is on them all, Government, NHS, local authorities and schools, to ensure that there is a consistency in the provision of these priority services across the country.
The forthcoming reconfigurations of the Defence Estate and the introduction of new models for rented and bought properties represent a particular challenge to the future provision of Service accommodation. It is clear to us that the MoD has provided substandard information on these policy changes. As a result, it is struggling to retain the confidence of serving personnel. It is clear to us that there are still major problems with CarillionAmey – which has the contract for accommodation services. If the problems with the level of service continue, the MoD should consider what alternative options are available for the provision of accommodation.
The Corporate and Community Covenants underline the importance of the role of businesses and of local communities in implementing Covenant principles. We believe that more can be done to harness the potential that lies within the relationships between them and the Armed Forces. The UK’s exit from the European Union provides an opportunity to reinforce those relationships by requiring MoD contractors to sign the Corporate Covenant.