Armed Forces Bill, Report Stage, House of Lords, 23 November 2021

Armed Forces serving personnel, veterans, reservists and their families are valued members of our communities. All councils have signed the voluntary Armed Forces Covenant and are fully committed to honouring their obligations to those who have served their country.


Key messages

  • Armed Forces serving personnel, veterans, reservists and their families are valued members of our communities. All councils have signed the voluntary Armed Forces Covenant and are fully committed to honouring their obligations to those who have served their country.
  • Councils work with partner organisations to provide a range of services that support serving personnel and their families. Councils also support veterans and their families to adjust from the Armed Forces to civilian life, including housing, money advice, employment support, schools and health and wellbeing services. The LGA has published several reports highlighting and sharing best practice across local government. 
  • We support the aim of the Armed Forces Bill, which will introduce a new statutory duty on specified local public authorities to have ‘due regard’ to the Covenant, to help ensure armed forces, personnel, veterans and their families are not disadvantaged by their service when accessing key public services. We will continue to work positively with government to further embed the Covenant locally, building upon what has already been achieved.
  • We are pleased the Government is working closely with local government to develop the statutory guidance for in scope public authorities that will underpin the legislation. This will help to ensure that the duty builds upon existing partnerships and good practice, allows local flexibility to deliver Covenant pledges and supports innovative approaches.
  • We support the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to review potential new burdens costs for councils one year after the new statutory duty starts. Whilst many councils are already leading comprehensive approaches to local Covenant delivery, and there is learning to draw upon from other similar duties, some councils may incur additional costs to get ready for and implement the new duty. It is important that new burdens costs that may arise from implementing the duty are kept under review and fully be funding by government. 
  • A recurring challenge for councils is identifying veterans. More information about the number of veterans in our communities would help councils better plan their local services to make sure we have the right services in place. It is welcome that work is already underway to address this.   
  • We are working with national government to ensure councils are sustainably funded as financial certainty and sustainability will help ensure local government can continue to maintain and improve services, including honouring their important local Covenant commitments.
  • 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.

Amendment statements

Amendment to Schedule 8 tabled by Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Craig of Radley, Lord Coaker and Baroness Smith of Newnham would place the same legal responsibility to have “due regard” to the Armed Forces Covenant on central government as the Bill currently requires of local authorities and other public bodies. 

LGA view

Currently the new duty will only apply to councils and other limited public bodies delivering housing, health and education. We support the extension of the due regard duty to central government as an important partner supporting our Armed Forces Communities. Central government also determines much of the funding for local public bodies that are subject to the duty and issues national guidance that will affect the extent to which public bodies are able to fulfil that duty.

Amendment to Schedule 8 tabled by Lord Coaker would extend the scope of the duty to adult social care. 

LGA view

While we are supportive of the Bill and this amendment, we are concerned about the potential resource implications the new duty may have on councils, including already overstretched adult social care services. Whilst many councils are already leading comprehensive approaches to local Covenant delivery, and there is learning to draw upon from other similar duties, some councils may incur additional costs to get ready for and implement the new duty. It is important that new burdens costs that may arise from implementing the duty are kept under review and fully funded by government. We support the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to review potential new burdens costs for councils one year after the new statutory duty starts. 

Amendment to Schedule 8 tabled by Baroness Goldie would require draft guidance to be laid before Parliament 

LGA view

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is working positively with the LGA and councils on the development of the statutory guidance that would underpin the duty to have due regard. The guidance is an opportunity to embed a shared approach that will build upon what councils and local partners have already achieved, provide clarity about the scope of the statutory duty, further detail about what the duty means in practice and its implications for partnership working, recognise local flexibility to deliver Covenant pledges and support innovative approaches.

We look forward to this partnership approach continuing as the guidance is further developed. It is important that councils have sufficient time after the publication of the statutory guidance to finalise local implementation plans, including for frontline staff, before the duty comes into force. 

Contact

Laura Johnson, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

[email protected]