New legislation enshrines the Armed Forces Covenant in law.
Every council in Britain has an Armed Forces Covenant setting out how the Armed Forces Bill currently before Parliament would put the Armed Forces Covenant into law, placing a duty on public bodies responsible for the delivery of housing, education and healthcare to have due regard to the covenant’s principles.
During its Second Reading, the Bill was broadly welcomed by MPs as an important step forward.
However, some concerns were raised that it does not go far enough to embed the covenant fully into law and that more could be done to ensure enforcement of the proposed duty, in addition to concerns about a lack of funding for councils.
In a briefing to MPs ahead of the Second Reading debate, the LGA set out our full support for the Bill’s aim to help ensure the armed forces community are not disadvantaged by their service when accessing public services.
While the LGA is supportive of the legislation, we also raised some specific concerns local government has with clause 8 of the Bill. The clause sets out the proposed statutory duty for all UK public authorities to have due regard to the principles of the covenant, but lacks detail.
This makes it difficult to fully understand the implications for councils across housing, education and healthcare services.
It is important that potential ‘new burdens’ are fully funded by national government and kept under review so that councils can continue to deliver high-quality services to their armed forces communities. We look forward to seeing guidance that will set out what is expected of councils in greater detail.
The briefing also flagged the recurring challenge for councils of identifying veterans. More information about the number of veterans in our communities would help councils plan better to make sure we have the right services in place. It is welcome that work is already under way to address this.
We are working with national government to ensure councils are sustainably funded as financial certainty and sustainability will help local government continue to maintain and improve services, including honouring their important local covenant commitments.
The briefing welcomed the Government’s commitment to work with local government to develop the statutory guidance that will underpin the legislation.
“It is important that potential ‘new burdens’ are fully funded by national government”
This should be co-produced with councils so that the new duty builds upon existing partnerships and good practice, allows local flexibility to deliver covenant pledges and supports innovative approaches.
The LGA, alongside representatives from the Welsh LGA and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), gave evidence on the covenant to the Armed Forces Public Bill Committee in March.
During this session, we reiterated our call for ‘new burdens’ arising from the Bill to be fully funded and kept under review, and the importance of ensuring new guidance is co-produced with local government. We also highlighted the benefits of sector-led improvement work to support the armed forces community.
The Armed Forces Bill is an important step forward and we will continue to work with government, partner organisations and the armed forces community to ensure that its delivery is a success.
The Bill is midway through its committee stage, with MPs undertaking detailed scrutiny and considering amendments. Because of the Queen’s Speech on 11 May, the Bill has a carry-over motion, ensuring its progress into the next parliamentary session.