Released on 12 October 2012
Surrey Heath Borough Council has been praised by The Royal British Legion for its efforts to support the local Armed Forces community. The Council was praised by the country's leading Armed Forces charity at its recent reception at the Conservative Party Conference.
The reception publicised the Legion's "Best Practice Guide to Community Covenants" and celebrated the achievements of local authorities who have implemented practical measures to support their Armed Forces community and promote integration as part of signing a Community Covenant.
Endorsed by the Local Government Association (LGA), the Legion's guide gives practical advice and suggests measures for local authorities to consider as part of signing a Community Covenant. The guide is packed with case studies covering issues such as housing, employment, education, health and access to services. All the examples highlight the good work already being done by local authorities working together with their local civilian and Armed Forces communities.
Introduced by the Government in 2011 following a successful campaign by the Legion, the Community Covenant scheme is helping to transform the relationship between local communities and serving and Reservist Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their families, for the benefit of all. Surrey Heath signed its Community Covenant in January 2012.
Over 150 Community Covenants have already been signed across the UK, with more in the pipeline. With around 430 local authorities in total, however, there is still some way to go. The Legion is urging all local authorities to sign a Community Covenant and implement practical measures to benefit Armed Forces communities. Only then will the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant - of no disadvantage as a result of Service and special treatment where justified, such as in the case of injury - come to life and have real meaning where it matters most: on the ground, where members of the Armed Forces community access statutory - and non-statutory - services.
The Legion's guide shows that measures do not have to be expensive and that, in many cases, benefits can be achieved with minimal cost through rethinking policies and redesigning processes, as well as improving access and service delivery.
Examples range from a 'Veterans Homebuy' loan scheme and discount travel and leisure schemes, to local employment initiatives and additional resources for Family Support Officers to help Service children move schools, to adding tailored information to a Council's website, adapting call centre scripts and training staff to ask people accessing services if they have an Armed Forces background.
There is no prescribed 'one size fits all' approach - while local authorities can learn from one another's experience, what is appropriate in an area will depend on the nature and needs of the local Armed Forces community
Taken together, the many examples build an impressive body of best practice to date, which the Legion hopes will be a useful resource for all local authorities: both those who have already signed Community Covenants and those still considering it.
Chris Simpkins, the Legion's Director General, said, "Armed Forces families deserve support from the whole community. Our new guide shows the ways local authorities are embracing this challenge by not only signing a Community Covenant, but also, crucially, ensuring that there are tangible local benefits. For that, they have the Legion's sincere thanks. The challenge now is to sustain this momentum and spread the message across the UK. We call on other local authorities to make this commitment, providing the support that the Armed Forces community so deserves."
Cllr Moira Gibson, Leader of Surrey Heath Borough Council said, "I am delighted that Surrey Heath has been highlighted in the Legion's best practice guide because we are committed to doing all we can to support our local Armed Forces community. As a result of signing up to the Community Covenant scheme, Surrey Heath has introduced positive measures that are already making a real difference to both the local civilian and Armed Forces communities. Examples include resources for Family Support Officers to help Service children move schools, as well as a business event that will present the benefits of employing service leaders to local businesses. I hope that other local authorities will be able to learn from what we have put in place in Surrey Heath."
To find out more about Community Covenants and to read an electronic copy of the guide, please see www.britishlegion.org.uk/campaigning/community-covenants Opens in a new window.