Military is part of Oxfordshire's DNA

By Councillor Ian Hudspeth (via MJ magazine)

The military is part of Oxfordshire’s DNA – many of our residents and employees work for various elements of the Armed Forces.

For us it has always been that way. Indeed in days gone by there were far more than the six military bases we retain in our county. The military is crucial to our economy and part of our culture and fabric. It is certainly one of our biggest employers alongside local government.

So it was second nature for Oxfordshire County Council build on existing links with the military by responding to the Government’s exhortations earlier in the decade to be the first council to sign a military covenant and work every more closely with personnel at the Shrivenham Defence Academy, RAF Brize Norton, Bicester Garrison, Abingdon Station, Vauxhall Barracks in Didcot and RAF Benson.

A recent report published by the Forces In Mind Trust and the Local Government Association singled Oxfordshire and a small number of other councils out as case studies for other councils in terms of working with the media.

The particular aspect of our work that impressed those who inspected what we do was our appointment of military champions for each military base. There are sixty three county councillors in Oxfordshire and six of those are military champions.

The report pointed out that the appointment of military champions for each base had had “the effect of strengthening the links between the Armed Forces and the council. Units therefore do not need to call up the civilian integration officer to ask any questions and they are actively encouraged to contact the council themselves.

“Champions take it upon themselves to be the link between an individual base and the county. This requires that they develop and maintain relationships with relevant officers. It also means having and maintaining presence, such as through attending events on base.”

To be highlighted as an example of good practice is very rewarding and will give us all the encouragement we need to build on this success.

We’d encourage all councils to gone through the process we’ve been through in recent years, building a day to day relationship with the Armed Forces.

There will be few areas of the UK that are completely void of any military presence. Even those areas that don’t have a base – large or small - will be home to the families of serving military personnel and proud veterans within their communities.

For any council the aim of having an Armed Forces Covenant is to encourage charities, local authorities, businesses, communities and individuals to work together with the military to offer support to service personnel and their families as well as reservists and veterans.

We aim to encourage local communities to support the armed forces community in their areas, and vice versa and promote understanding and awareness among the public of issues affecting the armed forces community

We also aim to recognise and remember the sacrifices made by the armed forces community and encourage activities which help to integrate the armed forces community into local life.

Back in 2011 our county resumed responsibility for receiving military repatriations when RAF Brize Norton once more became the base at which fallen armed services personnel were received back in to the country. RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire had previously done an excellent job to national acclaim with town of Royal Wootton Bassett hitting the national headlines for the sensitive and impressive way it had handled repatriations.

There were a few media stories around at the time that repatriations would never be the same. In fact after some modest organisational work at the outset on the part of county, district, town and parish councils, the local Royal British Legion and others, Oxfordshire’s communities rose to the challenge magnificently. A memorial Garden was built in the Carterton/Brize Norton area and local people turned out to support bereaved families and show respect for the fallen on behalf of people all over the UK.

That came as no surprise to me. We respect and live alongside our local military. We have military champions among our county councillors – but in Oxfordshire there’s a sense that we’re all champions and supporters of our military regardless of the walk of life we’re in. If you’re not serving in the military you’ll have a relative, friend, neighbour or customer who is. It’s just part of who we are as a county and we’re proud of it.

* This piece also appeared in the MJ Magazine on September 27. http://www.themj.co.uk/Oxfordshires-on-the-march/205555