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Measuring Progress

Shared metrics are adopted across the transition journey to track sustained progress and accountability towards the Strategy for Our Veterans ambition.

With its 10-year scope, Strategy for Our Veterans sets the intent for delivery of public services to veterans across the UK. In particular, it states that by 2028, “every veteran will feel even more valued, supported and empowered, and in accordance with the Armed Forces Covenant, and in Scotland, Renewing Our Commitments, will never be disadvantaged as a result of their Service.” This is in support of the UK Government vision to make “the UK the best place to be a veteran anywhere in the world”, and acts as a call to action for all support organisations around the UK. But how will we define “best”, where are we today, and how will we measure our progress?

Management thinker Peter Drucker is famous for saying “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. To date, a significant challenge has been the absence of and consensus around accurate information about veterans in general, and those in transition in particular. If ensuring that veterans feel valued is the key metric for success, or failure, then identifying who they are and where they live, really understanding their personal circumstances and ascertaining their perception of what constitutes value, support and empowerment, are important.

It’s tricky to find out this sort of thing at the best of times, but it is particularly hard for the veteran community; think of the ESLs who may not even consider themselves to be part of the Armed Forces after departure. Many we spoke to regret the paucity of baseline data from which to measure the success or failure of the myriad initiatives that are currently underway.

One ‘old chestnut’ that again surfaced in our discussions was the definition of the term veteran; a charged and lingering issue for some. “A key issue is whether or not we continue with our current definition. Only 2% of the British population can identify correctly what that is (defined as anyone who has served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, regular or reserve, or Merchant Mariners who have seen duty on legally defined military operations),” and “one of the barriers for doing more for veterans is our daft over-inclusiveness in the definition. As the finances of both charities and the state implode, this will likely be looked at (though it is not currently being reviewed).” This is important, because this definition helps to demarcate accountability – where, for example, does responsibility lie for an ESL who enters – and exits – the Armed Forces with poor qualifications and behavioural challenges? Should that be the social services that ‘failed’ to provide sufficient family support, the school that ‘failed’ to deliver sufficient education, or the individual themselves because they simply chose to reject the opportunities they were offered?

The answer may well be a combination of all of the above – but better measurement of these factors would certainly help identify where the gaps lie. Of course, the real reason for strategic measurement is to help build an accurate record of progress towards an objective. Importantly, it makes it possible to set goals and establish accountability. When discussing accountability across the sector, for delivering Strategy for Our Veterans, most people we spoke to felt that trying to do this has been an ongoing challenge for the MOD. “I don’t think [unclear accountability] is a ‘new’ Foresight. It’s not something that has changed from the past. I’m not sure there has ever been clear accountability – it’s been so for 100 years, hence why we have built charities in the first place to support people.” Some felt the problem is still not being addressed, “The Armed Forces Covenant? It’s a paper tiger, it’s a wonderful political statement, but the execution has been very poor.” All this matters, not only because of the cost implications, but because without it, it will be “increasingly difficult to hold the Government and authorities to account for the Covenant.”

Given the huge amount of work that local authorities, charities and other organisations do to support veterans, some might argue that worrying about measurement and accountability, although interesting, is not vital, particularly for the Armed Forces Community. By nature, veterans and those in transition are very self-reliant, and therefore, for the vast majority of issues, they are well  equipped to help themselves. Some suggested that this is happening already, and pointed to a growing number of breakfast groups where ex-Service men and women are supporting each other through transition. However, this is currently an informal approach and does not work for everyone – particularly those with complex issues. Sometimes, “people get buffeted by the system” and are unable to find the support they need; “those that can’t cope will be in even more trouble”. A more transparent understanding of the different roles and responsibility, particularly given the increasing fragmentation of services, would help mitigate this and make it easier for those looking to find the appropriate help.

Many we spoke to are concerned about the future. Despite the public pronouncements by the government, they felt that the next decade would see growing pressures on all sectors, with Armed Forces charities particularly vulnerable to financial challenges. If the government is not held to account, they fear the risk that it will not keep its commitment to serving the needs of the Armed Forces Community. “It’s more about the potential change in the balance of the support ecosystem. Consider this in the context of charities falling over, and pressure on government finances and the role it should play; then you can see the issue.” Greater accountability would do much to allay this.

It is evident that a clear roadmap towards the stated vision, with supporting measurement of progress, is sorely needed. This would help clarify the relationships between central government, local authorities, third sector providers and the transitioning Service personnel and their families. It would also provide a more robust overview of and Foresight about how care and support is distributed, and which organisations are responsible for its delivery. Above all, this would reduce the risk of the most vulnerable becoming “lost” in the very system that was created to help them.

Example Implication: The absence of robust and transparent measurement and accountability risks seeding a lack of trust in government to deliver on its commitment to make the UK the best place anywhere in the world to be a veteran.

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