Veteran's minister 'delighted' at Portsmouth's plan to become the best place in UK for military families

PORTSMOUTH’S 'grandiose’ ambitions to become the best city in Britain to be a military veteran have today been championed by a top government minister.

By Tom Cotterill
Sunday, 31st July 2022, 1:06 pm
Updated Sunday, 31st July 2022, 10:58 pm

Leo Docherty, minister for defence people and veterans, welcomed the city’s proposal, revealed today by The News.

Business body Shaping Portsmouth is spearheading the charge and is seeking for more firms than ever before to sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant, which urges companies not to disadvantage forces personnel and their families.

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Dan Arnold, pictured in Afghanistan, said he struggled to find his feet in the working world after leaving the military almost 10 years ago.

The intent is to have the biggest uptake of the forces covenant in Portsmouth than anywhere else in the country in the next five years.

Speaking exclusively to The News about the island’s ambitions, retired army officer Mr Docherty - who completed operational tours of Afghanistan and Iraq - said: ‘I am delighted to hear about Portsmouth’s ambition to become the leading supporter of the Armed Forces Covenant in the next five years.

‘Regardless of size, location or sector, employing members of the armed forces community is good for businesses.’

How the city will become Britain’s best for veterans:

Leo Docherty, minister for defence people and veterans. Photo: Ministry of Defence

The man now at the forefront of delivering the city’s proposal is Shaping Portsmouth’s new Armed Forces Covenant lead, Andy Spencer.

He was excited by the challenge and added: ‘I’ve been here six years and I’ve been astounded by the city’s can-do attitude. This is an idea that can really go.’

Currently working as Solent NHS Trust forces lead, Andy has seen first-hand the contribution military personnel can bring to businesses.

But the challenge, he claimed, is getting companies to recognise the skills that forces personnel possess.

Daniel Arnold, veteran soldier who is now working as part of the NHS's mental health team

‘We need to get people to understand the benefits of working in the forces community,’ he said. ‘They have the ability to assess the situation, what can be done and how to manage them and put a plan in place.

‘But they also seem to have the ability to lead and take people with them. They just crack on and get things done. They’re a real asset.’

Business support surges for the Armed Forces Covenant

Andy took over the role from his predecessor David MacAskill, who alongside Shaping Portsmouth’s chief executive, Stef Nienaltowski, visited companies across the island to champion the skills of military personnel.

Pictured: Andy Spencer who is the Armed Forces Covenant lead for Shaping Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

Their efforts saw the number of businesses signed up to the covenant doubling from 35 to about 70 in the space of six months.

But Andy said this was not just a numbers game - it was about getting firms to genuinely commit to the forces.

‘We have got a grandiose set of words around making Portsmouth the best place for armed forces communities to live and work in the country,’ he added.

‘It’s a grand ambition to have. But in practical terms it’s getting more businesses to sign up. Not just filling in the form and sending it off but to then act upon it by recruiting from the forces community more.’

Dad’s five year jobs struggle after leaving the army

The proposals have been backed by retired soldier and Afghanistan veteran, Dan Arnold. He served with the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment and said soldiers can struggle when leaving the forces.

The 36-year-old, who left the army almost 10 years ago, spent five years trying to find his feet, bouncing from job to job, not knowing what career to do.

He is now working in the NHS as part of a mental health support team and is appealing for a work experience programme to be set up for soon-to-be-leaving military personnel.

‘For me, if this had been in place, it could have cut down my journey by five years,’ said the Portsmouth dad.

‘Most people have only ever wanted to be in the armed forces. When your time is done or you get medically discharged like me, you have no idea what you want to do.

‘There needs to be a closer relationship between defence and companies offering work experience. It could make a huge difference.’

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth City Council boss, was behind Shaping’s plans but insisted the city needed to ‘go further’, by working with schools to give children a positive view of the forces, and businesses to recognise the benefits of reservists and veterans.

He added: ‘Businesses who can’t see the benefits of employing a military veteran are nuts. They have an enormous amount of skills they can bring to businesses.’