Friday, 12 February 2010

Supporting the Armed Forces Community: consultation results

The MoD has today published findings from the public consultation it undertook last year into how best to provide consistent and enduring support to the Armed Forces Community (AFC) , i.e. serving personnel, their families and veterans.

The consultation sprang out of the 2008 Service Command Paper which looked at ways in which the state's commitments in the Nation's Covenant with the Armed Forces could be repaired following years of neglect (NB. the Armed Forces' commitment to the Covenant has never weakened).

To re-establish the Nation's responsibilities - and indirectly to draw a veil over its own earlier failings - the government is seeking to engage the wider civil community in its endeavours. Local councils, the Third Sector (see *** below), the NHS, the Police and charities & voluntary organisations are all to play a role in supporting the AFC in future.

In terms of the number of responses it elicited, the consultation was not a success; indeed you could say that the response was pretty shameful. Of the 468 local councils in the UK, responses were received from just 16; only 3 government departments responded; Service charities and federations sent in 5 replies; 25 responses were received from the AFC itself; and one came in from the business community (Right Management UK). Not only that but "around a quarter of respondents did not answer the consultation questionnaire but took the opportunity to comment on wider Service Personnel issues".

Anyway, the findings of the consultation were summarised as:-

  • there was marginal support for an Armed Forces Charter (a kind of new Covenant);
  • existing problems would be resolved through increased awareness of Service issues and improved communication between the AFC and service providers;
  • the AFC should not be singled out as a minority/disadvantaged group;
  • for some reason local councils thought it was difficult to identify the AFC;
  • while the AFC thought legal obligations a good thing, local councils, as you would expect, didn't agree saying that additional resources would be needed to meet strict legal obligations;
  • again unsurprisingly, councils came out strongly in favour of local autonomy when it came to providing support to the AFC.
Although the 'single point of contact' approach for dealing with AFC issues was not generally popular with respondents, the government has already started to roll out its Armed Forces Welfare Pathway project involving the establishment of local service access points or "gateways". Pilot Pathways have been launched in Kent, Hampshire and in Wigan.

The MoD has also recently set up a National Point of Contact super-helpline for directing calls from Service personnel to the appropriate service-specific helpline.

Other recent developments include the Affordable Houses Scheme, improvements in the way school places are allocated for Service children and, of course, the Army Recovery Capability Scheme.

My experience with public consultations is that, more often than not, they're an expensive waste of time, serving only to line the pockets of the consultants themselves and providing little in terms of tangible benefit. However, this particular consultation exercise does seem genuine .... despite the poor response. A coherent (I hesitate to say 'holistic') approach for dealing with AFC issues is clearly required and it's good to see some joined-up thinking for a change.

MoD: Summary of responses to consultation on supporting Armed Forces Community published

MoD: The Consultation Paper (The Nation’s Commitment to the
A rmed Forces Community: Consistent and Enduring Support - A Consultation Paper)

MoD: A Summary of Consultation Responses - February 2010

MoD: Service Personnel Command Paper. The Nation's Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans.

*** The Third Sector as described on the government's "Communities" website: "The Government defines the third sector as non-governmental organisations that are value driven and which principally reinvest their surpluses to further social, environmental or cultural objectives. It includes voluntary and community organisations, charities, social enterprises, cooperatives and mutuals. We also include housing associations within the third sector. The Government recognises the value of the diversity of organisations in the sector providing voice for under represented groups, in campaigning for change, in creating strong, active and connected communities, in promoting enterprising solutions to social and environmental challenges and in transforming the design and delivery of public services." - ummm, well there you have it.