As the first law firm to sign the Armed Forces Covenant, we fully endorse this week’s Defence Committee recommendations to ensure that implementation of the 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.
As a lawyer deeply involved in military work I have witnessed the sacrifices made by our forces and their families first hand. The Armed Forces Covenant helps recognise the important contribution of personnel both to the civilian workplace and national security.
It is essential that we stand behind the brave men and women who have served our country on the front line – and this includes post conflict when they return home to Civvy Street. In the past this support has all too often been lacking.
This week’s 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.