Remarks at the signing of an Armed Forces Community Covenant for Worcestershire
Speech

County Hall, Worcester

We should all be extremely heartened to see the support for our armed forces displayed here in Worcestershire today, which I know is reflected across the country.

The British understand the debt they owe to their Army, Navy and Air Force.

Many people in our society show great courage, determination and patience in dealing with challenging personal circumstances, but true heroism in the real sense of the word is rare.

Yet that is what our Army, Air force, Navy, Marines and Special Forces demonstrate on a regular basis.

Most spectacularly in campaigns such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, but day in day out in a myriad of other challenges.

To be in the Armed Services is to commit to putting your life on the line for Queen and Country at a momentís notice. That is heroism.

And to be a defence minister is to encounter that heroism regularly and to be humbled by it.

I believe I am right in saying that over fifteen thousand members of the armed forces have been killed since the Second World War.

In only one year -1968 - were no British troops killed.

It is our communal gratitude for this service and sacrifice that is given shape and form in todayís signing of an Armed Forces Community Covenant here in Worcestershire.

On the day before the fourth annual Armed Forces day this gives a welcome opportunity to do two things.

First, to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and have served in the Armed Forces.

And second, to show our support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community, from serving troops to service families, from regulars to reservists, from veterans to cadets.

Today reminds us that this is not just a national responsibility, but a local one too.

Local organisations have a crucial role in leading recognition and celebration of our armed forces and in ensuring that they get the support they need while serving and afterwards.

This Government recognises the need to do as much as possible to ensure our Armed Forces, veterans and their families have the support they need and are treated with the dignity they deserve.

Thatís why in May 2011 we published a new tri-Service Armed Forces Covenant, setting out the key relationships between the Armed Forces, the Government and the Nation.

The Covenant defines the principles of removing disadvantage and allowing special provision in some circumstances, such as the injured or bereaved in their access to public and commercial services.

This has set a framework for policy making and delivery across Government and will improve the support available for the Armed Forces Community.

One of the most important aspects of the Covenant is the way we treat those who have been injured, or suffer from a debilitating health problem, as a result of what we have asked them to do.

Medical treatment in the battlefield is second to none.

I've talked to the Medical Emergency Response Teams in Afghanistan whose magnificent work helps to ensure that what was once an injury that would take a life is now survivable.

Outstanding care of the victims they treat continues just up the road at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and at Headley Court.

There the determination of the wounded to get back to as normal a life as possible is impressively displayed.

However, some will need a lifetime of care and we are committed to providing it.

This is an area which exemplifies the Covenant in action, where the Ministry of Defence in partnership with Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion is opening new and improved rehabilitation centres across the country.

This would not be possible without the energy and care with which the many veterans' organisations and charities look after the interests of ex-Service personnel whose welfare requirements are particularly acute.

We owe a great deal to the tireless and highly professional work of these organisations.

The Community Covenant scheme was launched a year ago.

It has proved to be hugely popular with some fifty Community Covenants already signed to date across the UK, and more than fifty pending.

A Community Covenant is a voluntary statement of mutual support between a civilian community and its local Armed Forces Community, in the form of a written pledge.

The Community Covenant complements the Armed Forces Covenant and enables local service providers to go beyond the national commitments.

The Community Covenant encourages local communities to develop a relationship with the Service community in their area.

This means that support from both the Service community and the local community can be tailored according to need.

The Community Covenant scheme is supported by the £30m Community Covenant Grant Fund, to support projects at a local level, that strengthen ties between members of the Armed Forces Community and the wider civilian community in which they live.

I am pleased to see such a wide range of local organisations signing this Covenant today and I look forward to hearing more of your plans to turn the Covenant into a living document that delivers real change.

I know Worcestershireís support for the Armed Forces has been demonstrated only this week when the Second Mercians were welcomed to the streets of Worcester for their homecoming parade on Wednesday.

Tomorrow there will be Armed Forces Day events around the county Ė Iím looking forward to the celebration at South Worcestershire College in Evesham.

But please excuse me if I offer special thanks to my own district council, Wychavon, and to the County Chairman, Rob Adams, for their outstanding work on a community housing scheme for the Armed Services.

Norton Barracks on the edge of Worcester was for many years the home of the Worcestershire Regiment. The final link with the regiment was only broken in March last year when the regimental archive moved away.

Although most of the land had been sold many years ago for the major housing development of Brockhill village, that meant a small area of land remained in MOD ownership.

It was Rob Adams who drove forward the idea that this land should be used for a very special purpose. He encouraged Wychavon to work with Evesham and Pershore Housing Association to take forward an imaginative scheme.

They proposed a development for, I think, 10 affordable homes Ė two 3 bedroom houses, four 2 bedroom and four 1 bedroom flats. These will first be offered to current and ex service men and women and their families.

This is just the sort of scheme that I believe we should all support and encourage.

However, itís taken a long time to agree the sale of the land and I know Rob and the parish council have been getting a bit frustrated.

So I am very pleased to announce today that the MOD has accepted Wychavon District Councilís offer for the remaining land at the former Norton barracks. The sale can now be completed rapidly.

As a defence minister I can say that the MoD warmly welcomes the initiative of Wychavon District Council and Evesham and Pershore Housing Association proposal and the opportunities it will provide for serving and former Armed Forces personnel.

The Armed Forces Covenant remains a work in progress but we have already made significant gains.

What gives it real momentum is the way it is being embraced at local level so keenly by communities like ours today.

The Covenant has set a framework for policy making and delivery across the whole of Government and will improve the support available for the Armed Forces Community.

Those who serve, and have served, deserve nothing less, even in the difficult times we face today. They deserve the best equipment, services and support we can offer.

Those who have selflessly defended our country and interests for no personal gain or glory must never be abandoned or forgotten.

Itís good to see this being expressed so powerfully in Worcestershire today

ENDS


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