As my hon. Friend knows, the armed forces covenant is important for this Government and it is a personal priority of mine. We are taking a number of steps to strengthen it. These include the continued promotion of the community covenant scheme, with more than 370 local authorities now signed up—that is more than 80% of all the local authorities in the UK; the recent announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of £10 million per year to support the covenant; and the launch of the corporate covenant, which allows businesses and charitable organisations to demonstrate their public support for the armed forces community.
Over the next few years, a considerable number of pupils from military families will be educated in south Wiltshire and around Salisbury. Will the Minister confirm that the MOD will work proactively with local authorities, including Wiltshire, to ensure that pupil premium funding is spent in an optimal way and that best practice is shared?
Yes, I believe I can. The service pupil premium was increased in April this year from £250 to £300. I can assure my hon. Friend that as units move under re-basing, whether from Germany or within the United Kingdom, we continue to work with the Department for Education, providing specialist information, advice and support through our own directorate for children and young people to local authorities and schools to secure maximum benefit from the service pupil premium for service children. In my hon. Friend’s particular case, we will of course ensure that we involve the military-civil integration partnership in Wiltshire, which does very good work in this area.
The Army Families Federation has launched an investigation into the effect of the bedroom tax on armed forces families, which I know may come as a surprise to the Minister as it took him some time to accept that armed forces families would be affected by the bedroom tax. Will he clarify whether the families of armed forces personnel who stay in single living accommodation on base in the UK are to be exempt from the bedroom tax in the same way as are the families of students living away from home? At present there are inconsistencies in the way this policy is being applied and it is undermining the armed forces covenant.
I recently had the privilege of attending the Army Families Federation conference in Germany, where I spoke on a number of matters, and a number of questions were raised with me by service personnel. I do not remember that issue being raised with me by the Army Families Federation when I was in Germany, so it may be an issue that the federation has raised with the hon. Lady, but it certainly did not raise the matter with me when I was at its conference.
The Minister rightly pointed out that the armed forces covenant is not just for the Ministry of Defence. With that in mind, what regular liaison and discussions are held with the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the community covenant is more than just a photo call?
The hon. Gentleman mentions the community covenant, which gives me an opportunity to repeat the fact that more than 80% of local authorities have signed it, including, I am pleased to say, all those in his and my county, Essex. He talked about co-operation between Government Departments. As he will know, a specific Cabinet sub-committee chaired by the Minister for Government Policy meets regularly to make sure that we are properly co-ordinated between Departments in evaluating the covenant. The hon. Gentleman may be pleased to know that that committee is due to meet again in the near future.