Community Covenant: 16th December 2013

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
5. What support local authorities have given to implementation of the community covenant. [901482]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Anna Soubry)
I am pleased to say that 98% of local authorities have now signed up to the community covenant. Some 11 have yet to sign, but I am told—[Interruption.] I am reliably told that they have now all agreed and undertaken that they will sign up as a matter of some urgency.

Andrew Jones
I thank the Minister for that reply, but can she explain in a little more detail what steps have been taken to encourage those small number of authorities who are yet to sign up?

Anna Soubry
I am happy to answer as follows. There has been—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are very keen; it must be the Christmas spirit. If they could just hold their horses for a moment, we might get to an interesting punch line that could steal their joke. In all seriousness, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government have written to the 11 remaining authorities. I also know that the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) has spoken at length to Charnwood borough council to ensure that it would sign up. If any local authorities have not signed up by the end of January, I think it might be a good idea for me to ring them and to speak to their leaders personally.

Mr Speaker
I think we all agree that that would be a magnificent prospect and that it would bring a prompt end to non-co-operation.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
I am proud that Kirklees council signed up to the armed forces community covenant on 29 June 2012, demonstrating the strong bond between my local community and our armed forces, particularly as the Yorkshire Regiment suffered such tragic losses in Afghanistan. Does the ​Minister agree that communities across the UK should show their respect and support for those who risk their lives for our country by signing up to the community covenant?

Anna Soubry
I certainly do. I should like to pay tribute to the Yorkshire Regiment and to Kirklees council. I took the trouble to visit the council’s website, part of whose home page is devoted to an item containing an abundance of information for people who are leaving the armed forces. That shows the council’s commitment, and it is a very good example of the kind of work that could and should be done. I also pay tribute to all those local authorities that have secured some £11 million of funding to ensure that they can deliver the community covenant.
 
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab)
South Wales has traditionally been a strong recruiting ground for the armed forces, so I am delighted that Councillor Mel Nott, the leader of Bridgend county borough council, has signed up to the community covenant. Has any assessment been made by the Department, in conjunction with the Department for Work and Pensions, of the impact that the stretching of front-line services such as housing and social services could have on the delivery of the community covenant to veterans and their families?
 
Anna Soubry
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question; he makes a good point. It is all well and good people signing up, but what matters is the delivery. There will no doubt be a chance later in questions to talk about today’s annual report on the covenant. This is about delivery, and some local authorities are clearly delivering, but there is also concern that some are not delivering in the way that we want them to deliver.

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op)
On the subject of delivery, the covenant report published today contains a quote from the three service families federations, which states:

“Central Government has asked local authorities to implement many aspects of the AF Covenant with little additional resources in terms of financial support, staff or guidance.”

So, to ensure that we do not end up with central Government pushing extra responsibilities on to local authorities and with the service community being let down as a result, will the Minister undertake and publish an audit of what local authorities are being asked to do for the service community and what funding is being provided for it? At the moment, there is a gap.
 
Anna Soubry
The covenant grant scheme has already provided £11 million in funding to local authorities, often working with their local barracks to ensure that they are delivering on the covenant. I have here a copy of the annual report on the covenant; it has been placed in the Library and it is also available from the Vote Office. Yes, we know that we must ensure that there is delivery, but I shall make two points. First, any audit should be done by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Secondly, this is one of those instances in which local government must deliver, and it is for local people to ensure that their local authorities are doing so—[Interruption.] I appreciate that the hon. Lady might have difficulty in understanding that, but ​this is not about top-down government. It is about local authorities and communities coming together to do the right thing. It is not about a big bossy Government telling them what to do.