I attended the Royal British Legion launch of their guide to the Community Covenant at Conference on Monday evening.
Oxfordshire County Council was the first local authority in the country to sign the Community Covenant. The purpose of the Covenant is to encourage communities to support in a tangible way their local Service communities. In some areas like Oxfordshire, the presence of large service bases like Abingdon, Benson, Bicester, Brize Norton, Didcot and Shrivenham will be a visible and tangible reminder of what we owe to our Service communities and of the contribution they make to our local economies. In other areas, with no obvious military presence, councils may feel the Covenant is not relevant to them. They would be wrong. Every council in the country will have residents and electors who are service personnel or their dependents. This is why every council in the country should think seriously about signing the Covenant.
However, signing the Covenant is only the first step in honouring its principles. Every signatory council needs to ensure that the Covenant principles are embedded in its policies and are visible and applied by council staff. The key principles are ensuring there is no disadvantage to service personnel because of the nature of their employment and that they are entitled to special treatment where justified.
Local councils deliver 20% of public services. Provision of schools, social care, housing, recreation, libraries & museums, transport, public health, environmental protection and strategic planning touches the lives of all citizens including those in military service. I represent the Local Government Association on the Covenant Reference Group which includes representatives of the government home departments, the MoD and services support bodies such as the Royal British Legion and SAFFA. This is a group with some significance in developing policies across government and feeding back the perspective of service people. Phillip Hammond, Secretary of State for Defence, announced at the Conference the allocation of £35 million to the Covenant Grant Scheme. This funding comes from fines imposed on the banking community and its distribution is to be the responsibility of the Covenant Reference Group.