The Armed Forces Covenant – Getting Government Suppliers To Sign-Up

The Armed Forces Covenant in the UK was brought in under the 2011 Armed Forces Act. It’s a “promise from the nation that those who serve or have served, and their families, are treated fairly”. The government said then it would work with “businesses, local authorities, charities and community organisations to support the forces through services, policy and projects”.

The Covenant’s two key principles are that:

  • the armed forces community should not face disadvantages when compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services; and
  • special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.

It is not clear why it has taken five years to get this on the agenda for public sector procurement in government departments and their suppliers.  But last week the Cabinet Office issued a statement and a Procurement Policy Note that promote this cause.

“By signing up to the covenant suppliers must be proactive in supporting veterans, and service spouses/partners, by being flexible to their needs when recruiting and during employment.

The covenant, which is non-binding, also encourages active participation in local and national activities such as Armed Forces Day and with local cadets”.

Of course, the cynic might point out that anything which is non-binding and has no legal status isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But any good company should be sensitive to the needs of all employees and potential employees, so encouraging suppliers to be better employers is not necessarily a bad idea.

In the policy note, it is suggested that contracting authorities use some text (provided in the note) in tender documents. That includes a long list of non-binding commitments that the bidder might agree to make, such as:

-  promoting the fact that we are an armed forces-friendly organisation;

-  seeking to support the employment of veterans young and old and working with the Career Transition Partnership (CTP), in order to establish a tailored employment pathway for Service Leavers;

-  striving to support the employment of Service spouses and partners;

-  endeavouring to offer a degree of flexibility in granting leave for Service spouses and partners before, during and after a partner’s deployment;

-  seeking to support our employees who choose to be members of the Reserve forces, including by accommodating their training and deployment where possible;

… and more.

This joins a long list of “policy through procurement” issues that buyers need to consider these days. Sustainability and climate change; supporting smaller firms; equalities and support for minority owned businesses; supporting local firms; promoting innovation; apprenticeships and helping the long-term unemployed; now the armed forces.

It is not surprising that some procurement people shake their heads and wonder what happened to simple “best value for money”. But being realistic, politicians and indeed the general public do expect the vast amount of money spent with suppliers to be used in some sense to promote policy goals as well as providing value.

That can bring conflicts of course and we need to be mindful of those. It’s also interesting that the UK and Europe still go nowhere near as far as the USA in looking to help military veterans; there is a whole and large federal department dedicated to that in Washington. Might we ever see that in the UK?

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