KEY decisions on the nation’s new armed forces covenant should be debated by Ministry of Defence leaders and not an independent team at the heart of Whitehall.
So says defence minister Mark Lancaster, who yesterday rejected calls by a body of MPs to consider allowing the cabinet office or Number 10 to oversee the covenant’s progress.
It comes amid concerns the MoD ‘marking its own homework’ could delay moves to improve healthcare, housing and education for the nation’s 2.6m veterans – 60,000 of whom live in Hampshire.
Tory MP James Gray feared the MoD might struggle to persuade certain cash-strapped government departments to fork out money to back the covenant – a deal which ensures councils support its veteran residents.
But Mr Lancaster brushed aside these concerns and said: ‘On balance I think it’s right that it should continue to sit primarily within the Ministry of Defence and not move to Number 10 or indeed the Cabinet Office.
‘But as I said, there is a role for both to play in that they scrutinise us and ensure that we are delivering.’
The news has been welcomed by Jim France, the area manager of armed forces charity the Royal British Legion.
Speaking to The News last night, he agreed there were still areas the covenant needed to improve, with healthcare and housing among the major sticking points.
But he said: ‘There’s nothing Mark Lancaster said that I vehemently disagree with.
‘There are areas the covenant can be improved – there are big gaps in housing provision and social housing.
‘But we’re confident that the covenant is heading in a positive direction.’
During the hearing at the Commons, Tory MP Johnny Mercer said progress had been made.
But he said: ‘We are climbing the mountain but the challenge is getting steeper every time.
‘So unless we catch up that gap just gets wider and then suddenly we’re in a place where we have got a real nightmare on our hands.’
Hampshire has one of the largest armed forces community in the country, with 60,000 veterans, 20,000 serving personnel, 1,200 reservists and 4,000 civilian personnel.