Thousands of members of the Armed Forces and military veterans have been pledged vital support through a covenant that will be adopted by a new council to serve the whole of North Yorkshire.
The county was one of the first places in the UK to have an Armed Forces Covenant in place, which is enshrined in law to ensure military personnel and veterans have access to services across both the private and public sector.
The new North Yorkshire Council, which will launch on April 1, is set to adopt the covenant that was first signed in the county more than a decade ago in 2011.
North Yorkshire has a proud history associated with the Armed Forces which dates back more than a century, and there are 10,770 military personnel in the county – one of the largest numbers nationally.
The county also has among the highest numbers of veterans in the country, with 29,831 former members of the Armed Forces living in North Yorkshire, according to data from the 2021 Census.
One of the key features of the Armed Forces Act 2021 is a new statutory duty to implement the principles of the covenant in the day-to-day delivery of council services, including housing, education and healthcare.
A new online learning module has been launched to raise awareness of the covenant and how it can be supported.
Council leader, Cllr Carl Les, who will assume the leadership of the new authority in the spring, said: “This is the ideal time to build on our work with partners and to re-establish a renewed collective commitment to our work with the Armed Forces community.
“The county is proud of its military connections - the Armed Forces based in the county, the veterans who live in the county and all their families.
“We serve an area with several military bases on our patch and we employ staff who are veterans those who have children who are serving personnel.
“One key feature of the due-regard duty relates to the awareness of the Armed Forces Covenant in day-to-day delivery of council services, as well as the planning, resource and reviewing of services.
“Alongside local government reorganisation, the new statutory due regard duty presents a timely opportunity for North Yorkshire Council to consolidate the good work already undertaken within the county and set out the steps it will take to meet the duty going forward.”
Catterick Garrison is one of the largest military establishments in the UK, and has associated barracks at Dishforth, Ripon and Topcliffe. Other military sites in North Yorkshire also includes the Army Foundation College at Harrogate, while the Royal Air Force has stations at Leeming, Fylingdales, Staxton Wold and Menwith Hill.
Almost three-quarters of the Army population in North Yorkshire are based in Richmondshire and a further 20 per cent are located in Harrogate.
There are 1,690 RAF personnel in North Yorkshire, which accounts for 15.7 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. More than 90 per cent RAF personnel are based in Hambleton, with a smaller number of just under six per cent in Ryedale.
There are also 3,707 pupils from military families attending schools in North Yorkshire, with half of that number being educated in Richmondshire. A further 20 per cent of children attend schools in Hambleton, and a similar number are educated in Harrogate.
Commenting on the need to ensure that military and ex-military personnel are not faced with any disadvantages, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Turner, Catterick Garrison Commander, said: “We are delighted that North Yorkshire County Council has reaffirmed its commitment to the Covenant. The close, cordial and long-standing relationship that we continue to enjoy with the community and local government is genuinely important - it enables us to do our job well, serving our country and county with pride, knowing that what we do, at home and overseas, is understood and appreciated.”
An action plan is due to be established to show how the new council will implement and resource the Armed Forces Covenant’s policy and its key aims and objectives.
This plan will be monitored and reviewed, and an Armed Forces community champion will be appointed for the new council with a senior officer also given the responsibility to promote the covenant and its policy.
Cllr Les added: “It is our moral duty to ensure Armed Forces personnel are treated with the respect they deserve and recognise the immense sacrifices they make.”
The new North Yorkshire Council will launch in nine weeks’ time on 1 April, marking a watershed in the way local democracy is governed in the county.
The merger of the existing eight councils to create a single unitary organisation is being carried out to pave the way for a devolution deal, which is set to see the Government hand key decision-making powers and millions of pounds of funding to local political leaders.
Councillors on our executive will be asked to adopt the new Armed Forces Covenant policy for the new authority at a meeting on Tuesday next week (7 February).
Read more information about the aims and objectives of the covenant.