Serving the services

The LGiU’s new publication, Honouring the Armed Service Community, compiled in cooperation with the Royal British Legion, explains the simple cost effective measures councils can take.

First, knowing how many veterans; reservists and armed forces personnel there are in your area and what public services they are accessing is important. North Yorkshire County Council has undertaken mapping exercises to identify locally based MOD employees and assess their contribution to the local economy.

Armed forces community representatives could be included in the bodies that frame your policy and delivery such as the Local Strategic Partnership and the Local Economic Partnership. Leicestershire County Council operates an All-Party Working Group on support to the Armed forces. This can prevent any serious omissions and help them to be rectified, where they currently exist.

Your council could assume a voluntary duty to consider the needs of veterans in designing and delivering health, housing and education services in their community. This could be designed and monitored in cooperation with an independent charitable body, such as the Royal British Legion.

In addition, local authorities could coordinate local businesses to provide discounts to members of the Armed forces community. Rochford District Council operates a Shop at My Local Scheme, this model could be adapted for the Armed forces community.

Public services can recognise that reservists face unique difficulties obtaining and retaining work given the time demands of this important role. Manchester City Council supports a ‘Hire A Hero’ campaign, founded by Karen Chadwick and led by ex-Service personnel.

Another idea is for councils to make service personnel aware of the remaining opportunities to purchase homes on a shared ownership basis. And members of the Armed forces can be awarded greater priority when allocating social housing.

Disregarding local preference rules for service personnel or granting them greater priority will allow them to amass time on the social housing waiting list like any other citizen.

When means testing applications for Disabled Facilities Grants councils have the power to disregard payments made in respect of injuries incurred during service and we would encourage them to make use of this flexibility.

And don’t forget the children of service personnel, who deserve the same level of education as other children and monitoring these children throughout their school career can ensure this. Oxfordshire County Council flags service children to ensure appropriate standards are met.

Armed forces personnel have a statutory right to priority treatment for injuries incurred during service. We would encourage councils to take all possible steps to ensure local GP commissioning teams know of this right and apply it in practice. Time spent waiting for NHS treatment in one area should be carried over to another NHS trust if personnel are deployed elsewhere.

War memorials within the council area could be audited to assess their condition and necessary repairs made. The Leicestershire and Rutland War Memorial Project began in 2009; it has found almost 1,000 previously unrecorded memorials in the last two years.

Councils could work with veterans groups in their area to achieve the council’s wider objectives in terms of promoting social cohesion. Blackburn Museum has worked with a local Asian youth group, on a project entitled We Also Served, to document the experiences of Muslim servicemen in the British Indian army in the Second World War.

These policies are offered as helpful suggestions not required measures. We hope they will prove useful for councils wanting to do more for this important community.

This article was first published in C’llr magazine.

UPDATE: the clip is here, around 35 minutes in. Over to Television Centre today to pre-record a clip for Newsnight to be aired tonight, Monday.   It was clear once the interview got going that they hoped I would say that the lottery or 'random allocation' for school places is a good system.   There is little place for naunce and qualification in an interview like this, where they want to cut it into a one liner into a recorded package.   So I said it, they pushed and pushed and then the words came tumbling out, the words I had been fighting back... "a school lottery is sometimes the right approach".     Last time the LGiU said this we were widely castigated in the media.  Columnists would say "how can it be fair for the future of your child to be decided by a ballot, surely there are better ways".  Well yes and no.  The job of a thinktank is not to say the easy thing, the obvious thing, the politically expedient thing - we'll leave that to others. Ed Balls has launched a review to detemine how widespread the use of lotteries is.   Perhaps he was unaware that the LSE and RISE are about to publish research showing that random allocation is used to allocate places in only 6% of schools.  In those schools random allocation is used for only some places.  It is most often used after other criteria, such as how close the child lives to the school, have been considered and these factors are equal amongst a group of applicants who exceed the places available.     In a small number of schools the more controversial practice of using a lottery as a preferred or deliberate method of allocating places is used.  Is this wrong?   It is most likely to be used in an urban area where there is a clear disparity in performance between schools and where there is a perceived need to ensure a more balanced intake in the schools.  An example would be a high performing school in an affluent area and a poorly performing school in a relatively poorer area.  If proximity, i.e. how close the child lives to the school, were the deciding factor for all places, this would have the effect of entrenching the relative disparity in performance.  If a lottery were used, and the intake were mixed, evidence shows that this should improve performance in both schools.   From a local authority point of view this would be the most desirable approach.  But the parent of a child who doesn't get into their preferred school will complain.    The parents' perspective (I am waiting to hear about my son's school place) is totally understandable and it is this anger and frustration that the national media and some national politicans are playing up to.     Local authorities are caught between a set of rules - your rules Mr Balls - that specifically include a drive towards equity and highlight random allocation as a way to achieve this, and the righteous indignation of parents.     Meanwhile the real problem remains.   350,000 young people leave school at 16 without five good GCSEs.    Until every school is a good school and parents can be sure that their child will get the best start in life whichever school they go to, we will have this annual round of parental anguish and political posturing.    This is not a distant aspiration.  In some communities initiatives such as building new schools, significantly improving facilities, and establishing specialisms, have already changed the dynamic and eased the problems of school admissions.    We need to make sure this happens in every area, as one part of the work, that the LGiU is playing a leading role in, to narrow the educational achievement gap.     I hope at least some of these issues come out in a useful way in the Newsnight coverage later.