Over the last three years Shared Intelligence has established an area of expertise around the delivery of the Armed Forces Covenant and action to meet the needs of members of the armed forces community and ensure they do not suffer disadvantage as a result of their service.
While important in its own right, this work also provides an interesting perspective from which to reflect on local councils and other local public service providers in 2019.
First, an obvious point. Most of those councils which adopt an innovative and effective approach to the armed forces community are high up most people’s list of well-performing councils.
More interesting is that when you scratch behind the surface of every council which takes the needs of the armed forces community seriously there is somebody in a pivotal position with a personal connection to the armed forces. I’m interested in whether this is the case in relation to other groups in the community and whether mobilising people who could operate in this way could be a powerful transformation tool.
Second, exploring how effective councils and other service providers are at meeting the needs of this group should be treated like putting dye into an organisation’s blood stream. It sheds light on the quality of briefing for call centre and contact centre staff. It tests the effectiveness of signposting and outreach services. It can enable action to be taken to meet the needs of other groups within the community not just the armed forces.
Third, councils have an important role to play in encouraging businesses and other local employers to sign the covenant. Many councils need to talk to businesses more. This provides a specific reason to do so.
Finally, we know that for members of armed forces community and their families who are leaving the services the process of transition is critically important. It is period of significant practical and cultural change, and for most people it goes well. For a minority, particularly some young men leaving the army after a relatively short period, it goes less well and they face difficult circumstances.
What is striking is that the Army knows who is most at risk of facing problems, yet despite this knowledge in too many cases the transition process lets them down.
We also know that the transition from the armed forces to civilian life is just one example of significant transition processes that too often the state manages badly for vulnerable groups of people. Think about the transition from prison, particularly for people who serve short terms. Think about the transition from hospital, particularly for older people.
A key feature in all of these cases is that the boundary between the institution and society is an impenetrable one: the wire around a barracks, the wall around a prison, the DTOC barrier in hospitals. The challenge is to make those boundaries more permeable, to treat them as a space for service innovation rather than a barrier to meeting people’s needs.
There is an urgent need for a collective look at how we can better manage these difficult points of transition.