Renewing the Covenant in the Capital

In the past two years, Lewisham Council has supported Renewing the Covenant in the Capital, a Ministry of Defence project which has helped local authorities across London to audit and improve their service offer to the armed forces community. 

Just as importantly, the project has increased a mutual understanding of what a local Armed Forces Covenant means in practice – both for the providers of local services and local residents from the armed forces community.

While we are prepared to place our armed forces in harm’s way during conflict, we also rely on them to lead on the reconstruction of devastated communities abroad and in civil emergencies at home, such as the current coronavirus pandemic.

For all this we are thankful, but we owe them more than gratitude. 

There has long been an understanding – a covenant – that in return for the special burdens we place on our armed forces, they can expect their government – in all its forms of public service – to ensure proper support for the armed forces community, including serving personnel, veterans and their dependants.

Local authorities provide many of the essential services that the armed forces community relies on – housing, education and training, and mental health support. 

Too often, however, it can be easy to forget the additional challenges of a community whose experiences are often invisible to the rest of us. 

Returning personnel may take time to adjust to civilian life even without suffering long-lasting physical or mental injuries in the course of their active service. All of these may well impact on the wellbeing of their families too.

So it is right that local authorities like mine in Lewisham recognise and address these challenges in local Armed Forces Covenants that set out our specific public service commitments for our citizens who are also part of the armed forces community. 

In so doing, we are not unfairly giving our armed forces community any special treatment over others. Rather we seek to ensure that no-one is disadvantaged in accessing public services by reason of their own or a family member’s service in the armed forces.

Every local covenant will be tailored to local circumstances. In Lewisham, our covenant includes specific guarantees in the allocation of housing and school places, as well as support for mental health and training for employment opportunities.

Our commitment also extends to the council’s role as a local employer, with interviews guaranteed for job applications by veterans and their spouses as well as 10 days’ additional paid leave for staff who serve as armed forces reservists.

For this we were proud to receive a Gold Award from the Ministry of Defence’s Employer Recognition Scheme.

But for a local Armed Forces Covenant to achieve its purpose, it cannot merely exist as a policy document; it must be an ongoing relationship with the armed forces community.

Renewing the Covenant in the Capital as a project has helped local authorities across London to audit and improve their service offer to the armed forces community. 

Just as importantly, the project has increased a mutual understanding of what a local Armed Forces Covenant means in practice – both for the providers of local services and local residents from the armed forces community.

See www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/services/london-armed-forces-covenant for more information, or follow on social media @londoncovenant

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