Speech by Mark Francois, Minister of State for the Armed Forces.
I’m delighted to be here for the first annual conference of this type between defence and employers…
…just one of the many signs that there has been a welcome step-change in our relationship.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m the Minister for the Armed Forces … and I’m delighted to be Stu Peach’s “warm up act”.
It can be an unexpectedly hazardous occupation…
…but not in the way you might think
But, of course, in all sorts of other ways my role is the most rewarding one imaginable.
And today we’re discussing the covenant …a subject very close to my heart.
…not just because I served as the departmental Whip at the time we were enshrining the principles of the covenant into law.
…not just because…when I became a minister…I had quite a bit to do with drafting the original Corporate Covenant
…but because…as someone whose father served on a minesweeper on D-Day …someone who served as an infantry officer in the Territorial Army at the height of the Cold War …and someone who sees the incredible work of our service men and women day in day out
…I know how important it is that we help those who lay their lives on the line to help us
We listened to you
As suppliers of talent to our armed forces…as well as providers of opportunity…employers have a greater stake in the covenant than most
But we knew our relationship with you left room for improvement.
So we made sure we listened to what you had to say.
In our reserves green paper consultation we spoke to many employers across the country.
…the message that came back was that you wanted a more open and predictable relationship.
…one where you didn’t find another person at the end of the line every time you rang us up.
So we promised you a single point of contact.
And we kept our word.
Last spring we set up the Defence Relationship Management team.
…providing clearer lines of communication between you and defence.
Why we came up with the covenant
Also, as part of this process…we in the Ministry of Defence…realised that many companies large and small instinctively wanted to do their bit for service personnel…their families…and, indeed, for veterans.
…but were unsure how to best go about it.
There were a number of initiatives but no easily accessible template.
We needed something that was simple.
…something non-bureaucratic…(which is…I know…asking a lot of government!)
…something specifically designed so companies from the largest in the land.
…to the smallest and most humble .
…could demonstrate their support for all those who wear the Queen’s uniform.
So we created that template.
And called it the Corporate Covenant.
…with a menu of options for companies to:
…declare themselves armed forces friendly …provide job advice and interviews for veterans and service spouses …support our reserves …offer exclusive discounts for members of the armed forces community …or even back their local cadet unit
In true MOD style officials produced a detailed explanatory note on how it would work…some 10 pages long. That swiftly became a victim of the ministerial red pen. It’s now just 4 pages!
But, actually, when you boil the Corporate Covenant down to its essence… you can explain it in just a couple of lines.
It’s about stopping personnel from suffering disadvantage.
And it’s about extending opportunity to the best and brightest in our society.
…those who have received a unique training. …those possessed of unparalleled leadership skills. …those who are immensely employable in their own right.
And with 83% of ex-service personnel finding a job after the first 6 months…many sooner than that…it’s not hard to see why they are such an asset to any company.
I think of it like this. Imagine a Corporal…serving on Op Herrick in Afghanistan…someone who regularly leads a fighting patrol in a high IED threat environment.
Eventually… after completing his service with the colours with honour… he moves on. Now an ex-corporal he finds himself at the morning office team meeting …when a colleague rushes in …and says the 4 o’clock conference call has moved forward …can you cope with that?
And the answer is yes…he probably can actually.
On one wall in my office is a copy of the first Corporate Covenant ever signed…with the names of the 5 major employer organisations who signed it, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry and the Business Services Association.
They signed it way back in June 2013…joining the first company to come on board…National Express.
I remember when we signed that document…sitting at the Duke of Wellington’s old desk in Horse Guards…that someone said we might have started something big.
And it looks like they were right. It’s astonishing to think we’re now closing in on the magic 500 mark. With…as of today 492…employers on the list.
I’m delighted to announce that the ink is still drying on our latest signature.
One hour ago… one of the largest companies in Britain…a company with a market capitalisation of nearly £60 billion added their name to the roll call of honour.
…Vodafone now joins other FTSE 100 stalwarts such as BAe Systems, Babcock, Barclays, and Tesco….as well as major utilities such as Anglia Water…and famous names such as Liverpool FC.
Yet what’s remarkable…as the composition of our audience today attests…is the spread of covenant companies across the spectrum
We have the country’s largest employers joining hands with small and medium sized companies employing less than a hundred…less than 50…less than even 10 people all doing their bit.
Vodafone…as part of its commitment today…are launching a career portal to engage service leavers.
They are pledging to develop their relationship with the one group of people who can always get a signal, The Royal Signals, 94 Signal Squadron.
And they have committed to a 20% discount to defence personnel and up to 5 family members.
But I want to take the opportunity today…to make 3 other announcements …of a more technical nature.
Announcements that have come about because we’re continuing to work closely with our partners and employers.
Announcements which will ultimately increase opportunity to those currently out of work.
So today I am pleased to tell you that we’ve joined forces with Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme…to extend a scheme known as the Armed Forces Employability Pathways… across the UK.
Under this scheme, job seekers who are eligible, suitable and interested in the armed forces…whether regular or reserve…will be identified…and given a week’s course as a taster of military life.
…followed by work experience with a civilian employer.
It will help arm those without work with the confidence and experience to get on, or further up, the jobs ladder and ideally to join the armed forces.
We know reserve service itself can help the unemployed find a way to break into the labour market.
So my second announcement is that from 1 April…job seekers who sign up for the reserves…will be able to train for up to a total of 43 days in their first year without having to sign off, enough to complete their initial training.
Thank you to IDS and DWP.
Thirdly…and I hope you’re ready for this.
…we are amending Statutory Instrument 859, the Reserve Forces (Call-Out and Recall) (Financial Assistance) Regulations.
Before you dash out and ring your broker…let me explain what this means.
At present, we only pay additional costs of a replacement employee while the reservist employee is mobilised.
In future, employers will be able to claim costs of hand over and hand back periods before and after the mobilisation.
It also means that…in future self-employed reservists…may claim for certain business expenses…such as storage or insurance costs… if they have to put their business on hold when mobilised.
But this is about administrative as well as financial assistance. We’re also clearing the red tape so you can get your claim sorted quickly.
Success and momentum
Our strengthened relationship with employers is now making a real difference.
One measure of our success is the increase in reservist numbers.
Last quarter the numbers doubled over the equivalent period the year before and the next quarter should be further ahead
But what’s even more impressive to my mind is the way covenant companies across the country are now delivering on their promises. Not just supporting reserve service but working to tackle commercial disadvantage against service personnel and their families.
As part of their Corporate Covenant pledge, local HR company, Crispin Rhodes in Milton Keynes, is helping other organisations develop armed forces friendly HR policies.
Meanwhile, Ramblers Worldwide Holidays in Welwyn Hatfield have found that they can really recruit high quality holiday leaders from ex-servicemen and women. According to their MD: “These are people used to managing groups for extended periods of time and caring for their welfare too, ideal skills to bring to the role of a walking holiday leader”
Examples of small companies doing this
Vodafone’s slogan is “power to you”. So G-d bless Vodafone and all the other companies who have signed.
More power to your elbows. Now our challenge is to maintain this momentum …to keep expanding the covenant as widely as possible.
We’re looking to you to become our advocates. Pushing the message down through your own organisations and out to others across the sector
…that this isn’t just about doing the right thing for the country…it’s about doing the right thing for your business too.
So ladies and gentleman. You’re doing a wonderful thing in supporting our armed forces through the covenant.
It’s genuinely heart warming to see so many keen to employ reservists and ex-service personnel.
Some of you will have already received well deserved recognition through bronze, silver or gold awards…some may even have been thanked in person by the Prime Minister at Downing Street.
But…as the Minister involved at the start of the Corporate Covenant…let me say on behalf of service personal and their families…two small but really heartfelt words.
In the last two years we’ve come an awfully long way.
But we’re on a roll now.
So let’s accelerate.