It is impossible not to be cynical about efforts to restore the Military Covenant because as the Government gushes forth about how valuable the armed forces are, how we all have to redouble our efforts to support them and just how much it appreciates the sacrifices made by service personnel, we see an involuntary reduction in personnel, wholesale cutting of capabilities that will likely result in yet more dead soldiers, sailors and airmen, and a general inability to do anything but talk a good one.
But even taking account of the double standards demonstrated by this and previous governments the effort is worth a look.
David Cameron said
Our service personnel make an extraordinary contribution to British life. Those serving on the front line risk their lives for us on a daily basis. So all of us – the government, the private sector, and the voluntary organisations – need to go the extra mile for them. I want to get to the root of their issues and make sure that the inevitable disturbance associated with military life does not lead to greater problems
The press release goes on…
The Government has promised to rebuild the Military Covenant and in July Mr Cameron asked Professor Hew Strachan, a military historian at Oxford University, to lead an independent task force to develop innovative ideas to support this aim.
Professor Strachan is also a member of the External Reference Group, which oversees cross-government support for the Armed Forces community.
His report, published today, looks at support that can be provided across Government and throughout society and makes many recommendations for the Government to consider.
The Government will begin work immediately on two recommendations in the report.
The first is for an Armed Forces Community Covenant, which encourages communities across the UK to volunteer support for their local Armed Forces.
The second is for a Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation Scheme, which will allow the head of the UK’s Armed Forces to thank individuals or bodies who give exceptional support to the Armed Forces.
Andrew Robathan, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, will publish a full response to this report’s recommendations on behalf of the Government in Spring 2011.
So the two recommendations that the Government will implement immediately are
- An Armed Forces Community Covenant, a lift of a US idea that chimes with the Big Society notion of doing things without spending any public money
- Yet another worthless award scheme
Fantastic news so far, I am almost 100% certain that those sweating it out in a PB in Helmand will be grateful for a big cheesy thank you for various grief whores and bandwagon jumpers or the vague notion of more community support.
The Government will ‘consider’ the other recommendations and no doubt ignore them next year.
It is interesting to see who was consulted in the review process
ARMED FORCES ADVOCATES
ERG Chair Director General Domestic Policy Group, Cabinet Office
Department for Work and Pensions
Director of Benefit Strategy, Welfare and Wellbeing Group
Department of Health
Chief Executive Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and DH co-chair of the MOD/UK Depts of Health Partnership Board
Department for Transport
Department for Education
Director, School Formation and Investment
Business, Innovation and Skills
Director, Student Finance Strategy
Department for Communities and Local Government
Director, Housing Strategy & Support
Her Majesty‟s Treasury
Policy Advisor, Defence, Intelligence and Diplomacy Team
Deputy Chief Executive, UK Borders Agency
Her Majesty‟s Revenue and Customs
Director, Benefits and Credits
Welsh Assembly Government
Director General for Public Services and Local Government Delivery
Director-General for Health and Chief Executive NHS Scotland
Confederation Of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations (COBSEO)
Royal British Legion (RBL)
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA)
War Widows Association (WWA)
Naval Families Federation
Army Families Federation
RAF Families Federation
Prof Hew Strachan, Oxford University
MINISTRY OF DEFENCE REPRESENTATION
Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff for Personnel & Training
Director, Service Personnel Policy
Focus groups with:
Service Personnel Directors
Other Government Departments
Royal College of Defence Studies Students
HQ Northern Ireland
145 Brigade and representatives of Hampshire County Council
51 Brigade and 2 Division
Services Personnel and Veterans Agency, Norcross
Dr Helen McCartney, Sarah Ingham (both King’s College London)
The Rt Hon James Arbuthnot, Chairman, House of Commons Defence Committee
Dr Susan Atkins, Service Complaints Commissioner
Lisa Bainbridge, Head of Public Policy, RBL
Admiral Sir Jonathan Band, formerly First Sea Lord
Allison Barrie, RUSI
Colonel Beverly Bergman, Military Medical Liaison Officer, Chief Medical Officer and Public Health Directorate, Scottish Government
Lt Col Sally Coulthard, Defence Career Partnering
Squadron-Leader Jason Chalk, DCDS PERS-PM-SO2
Major General Peter Currie, Lt Govnr, Royal Hospital Chelsea
Professor Christopher Dandeker, King’s College London
General Sir Richard Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff
Kate Farrell, Project Compass – Programme Manager, Crisis
Captain Malcolm Farrow RN, Assistant General Secretary, Forces Pension Society
Lt Gen Sir Rob Fry, formerly Royal Marines, Trustee, Help for Heroes
Dr Claire Fyvie, Clinical Director, Veterans First Point
Major Andrew Godefroy, Canadian Army
Professor David Greenaway, former Chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Board
Major-General Andrew Gregory, DG Pers, Army
Chris Harris, for the Mark Wright Project
Abigail Harwood, Experian
Paul Hayllor, Project Co-ordinator, Veterans First Point
Sam Heywood, Imperial War Museum
Air Cdre Dan Hill, Head of Strategy and Programmes, DCDS (PERS)
Brigadier David Homer, Head of TESR
Major-General Buster Howes, Commandant General Royal Marines
Lt Gen Sir Alistair Irwin, former Adjutant General, President of Poppy Scotland and Veterans Scotland
Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel J Jarvis, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Health)
Lt Col Phil Joyce, Hasler Company Royal Marines
Gillian Key-Vice, Head of Government Affairs, Experian
Lt Gen Sir John Kiszely, former Director, Defence Academy, and President, RBL
Peter Lamb, Strategy and Business Development – Manager, HP Enterprise Services
Air Vice-Marshal Paul Luker, Reserve Forces and Cadets Association
Dawn McCafferty, RAF Families Federation
Julie McCarthy, Army Families Federation
Mark McGann, Deputy Director, Policy, Big Lottery Fund
Brigadier Justin Maciejewski, 12 Mechanized Brigade
John McKinnon, Secretary and Chief Executive, Ministry of Defence, New Zealand
Lt General Mark Mans, Adjutant General
Commodore Michael Mansergh, Director Navy Personel
Major Steve Melbourne RM, Hasler Company Royal Marines
Major General A.G. Melick, Head, Cadet, Reserve and Employer Support Division, Australian Army
Major General Mungo Melvin, Royal College of Defence Studies
Rob Moorhead, Department of Health
Brigadier Hugh Monro, HM Chief of Inspector of Prisoners, Scottish Government
Alister Murphy, Armed Forces and Veterans Issues Team Leader, Scottish Government
Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, ACDS (PERS)
Pat Murray, Head of Press, Big Lottery Fund
Dr Andrew Murrison MP
Alex Neil MSP, Minister for Communities and Veterans, Scotland
Group Captain Paul O‟Neill, DACOS Pers Strat, RAF
Richard Ottaway, General Manager and Secretary for War Pensions, Veterans‟ Affairs, NZ
Ian Parker, Head of Estates Practice, Hampshire County Council
Bryn Parry, Help for Heroes
Major-General Jacko Page
Claire Phillips, Deputy Director – Violence, Social Exclusion, Military Health and Third Sector Programme Department of Health
Peter Poole, Combat Stress
Elizabeth Quintana, RUSI
General Lord Ramsbotham, former Adjutant General and HM Inspector of Prisons (England)
Wg Cdr D J Read, Pensions Compensation and Veterans, MOD
General Sir David Richards, Chief of the General Staff and Chief of the Defence Staff (desig)
Kim Richardson, Naval Families Federation
Dr Emyr Roberts, DG – Public Services & Local Government Delivery, Wales
Lt Gen Sir Bill Rollo, DCDS (PERS), and former Adjutant General
Commodore Angus Ross, DGHRCS- Corp Services Advisor
David Rutter, Department of Health
Major-General David Shaw, GOC, 2 Division
Grp Capt Carol Smith, DCDS Pers-SCW-AFW Asst Head
Lt Col Mike Smith (retd), Casualty Officer, The Rifles
Air Vice Marshal Tony Stables, Chairman of COBSEO
Colonel Edward W Thomas, USAF Commander, 673rd Mission Support Group, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
Tony Symmonds, Secretary, Armed Forces Pay Review Body
Tracey Vennai, Deputy Head, Pensions Compensation and Veterans, MOD
Professor Pascal Vennesson, European University Institute, Florence (on France)
Dr S A Wareing, Firm Base, 145 Brigade
Professor Simon Wessely, Director of the King‟s Centre for Military Health Research
Brigadier Mark Wheeler, New Zealand Defence Forces
Corps RSM Mark Wicks Royal Marines
Vice-Admiral Peter Wilkinson, formerly DCDS (PERS)
Commodore Simon Williams, Director Naval Personnel Strategy
Rear-Admiral James Wisecup, United States Navy
Dr Kevin Woods, Scottish Government and Armed Forces Advocate
Does anyone see any Other Ranks there, apart from the RM Corps RSM?
Does anyone see the British Armed Forces Federation there?
Incredibly, no, so it straight away looks like a collection of the great and good, being earnest and wanting to do the right thing, but if you can’t be serious about finding out first hand what issues affect service personnel then surely any resultant effort will perhaps miss the mark?
The Task Force has focused in particular on ways of involving charities, private companies and civil society more widely in supporting Service personnel, veterans and their families.
Thus abrogating the role of the Government, it is the Government that chooses to deploy the Armed Forces, it is the Government that has a duty of care and it is the Government that must shoulder the burden. Simply applying yet another coat of Teflon to the already well Teflon’d shoulders of Government communicates the wrong message, any practical benefits will be immediately negated by this simple and unavoidable fact.
Looking at the key recommendations
- Armed Forces Community Covenant
- Recognition of the Armed Forces Family
- Explore Options for Increased Home Ownership Among Service Families
- Veterans Policy and Coordination of Veterans Charities
- Education Throughout Service Career
- Strengthening Links Between Military and Civilians
They all look extremely worthy, well intentioned and who could argue with them but really, repairing the covenant will take much more than this.
Armed Forces Community Covenant
The Community Covenant has its roots in a successful US scheme in which states and towns (incorporating local government and local service providers, the voluntary sector and private companies) voluntarily pledge support for the Armed Forces family (including Service personnel, veterans and their respective families, including the bereaved) in their area.
This already happens, the service charity and voluntary sector is vibrant, unfortunately it has to be.
The suggested Pledging Ceremonies sound sound like a recipe for a three foot thick layer of syrup
The report suggests how Central Government might support the Community Covenant
Examples could include: provision of a Community Covenant template document for organisations to pledge to; guidance on key areas of priority (such as disregarding compensation payments for means testing); a central Community Covenant website (to link to news stories and information about local schemes); issuing of formal scroll/certification or logo for businesses; organisation/funding for formal pledging ceremonies; funding to cover any initial start-up costs (though these should be minimal). Funding might not be available from central government but sponsorship could be sought from private companies or charities.
Its going to be difficult to contain my enthusiasm for this one, wow, an online Word document, website and a scroll. And as for Sponsorship, what next, the Pukka Pies sponsored Royal Engineers Plant Troop or Apple iPod branded Royal navy Frigate.
Remember, this is one of the ones the Government are immediately implementing.
Recognition of the Armed Forces Family
Options in the report include a Veterans Privilege Card, a Service Families Card and an Army Reservists Card that would enable these groups to identify themselves to others and gain access to a web site.
A bit like a Tesco Club card but not anywhere near as useful
Increasing Home Ownership
The report states that more work will be needed and suggests raising awareness, encouraging banks and building societies to offer favourable rate (ha ha) and a PM/Chancellor chaired ‘summit’ of the major banks to explore the options.
Increasing home ownership is basically a vehicle by which the government can reduce its long term commitment to service housing
Veterans Policy and Coordination of Veterans Charities
More coordination is of course a good thing and I have long thought the service charity sector is too fragmented but it should the charities themselves that effect this change. They certainly do not need any government meddling and the frankly shocking state of affairs where the MoD can quite brazenly boast about its linkages with RBL and H4H for the Army Recovery Capability when clearly it is the duty of the government to provide these things, is incredible.
Is the MoD to create a shopping list of areas of greatest need for the charities to address, yet more teflon!
Education Throughout Service Career
There are some good suggestions here such as an ongoing commitment to education but there has to be time, resources and an attitude adjustment for this to happen. With reducing numbers across the board is this likely?
Strengthening Links Between Military and Civilians
Again, all good stuff, but we have to be very careful to keep a balance.
I have been pretty harsh, the report is well intentioned and if you read the details, there are lots of great ideas.
However, there is more to the military covenant than better housing or being recognised as a good sort.
Adequate equipment and resources, restraint in deployment, efficient administration and matching words with deeds are equally important.
We should remember that this is one part of the Government’s initiative to support the Military Covenant.
For its part, the Government has got off to a flying start
- Reducing the planned purchase of 22 Chinooks to 12
- Cancelling Nimrod MRA4
- Reducing armour and artillery
- Reducing surface vessels
- Reducing Tornado
- Withdrawn Harrier GR9′s
- Withdrawing Sentinel
- Slashing allowances and expenses
- Setting up the armed forces for a post Afghanistan change in terms and conditions of service
- Implementing a 2 year pay freeze
- Reducing pensions
- Reducing service personnel by 17,000
- Reducing the MoD Civil Service by 25,000 which will likely result in more work for service personnel
Am I missing something?
In other news, Boeing have started fabrication on the first of India’s P8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, yes the same India that is benefiting from the Conservatives ring fenced and increasing overseas aid budget.
Still, at least they are bringing back the Royal Tournament to keep our minds off the staggering betrayal and quite breathtaking hypocrisy.
The military covenant is essentially about trust.
I get the feeling that this Government has fallen out of the mould as the last one, deliberately confusing activity with results, spending with success and creating a tick list of superficial things that it can show to all that is has done, regardless of the actual impact.