Employer Engagement Case Studies

Doncaster Council

Lisa Swainston, Stronger Communities Manager
Doncaster Council is leading the way in how it treats reservists and veterans. As well as offering reservists up to ten days extra leave, it also guarantees interviews for reservists, cadet force adult volunteers and veterans.

THE return home of former paratrooper Ben Parkinson who suffered massive injuries in Afghanistan inspired his local council to take a long, hard look at the way it treated the military.

The result was a root and branch policy overhaul which has led Doncaster Council to become one of the leading authorities in the country for the way it treats reservists and veterans.

Its commitment to ensuring they get a fair deal led it to become one of the first organisations to be recognised with a Gold Award by the Ministry of Defence in its Employer Recognition Scheme.

Lance Bombardier Parkinson, aged 33, lost both legs and suffered brain damage when his Land Rover hit an anti-tank mine in Helmand Province in 2006.

“Ben’s return kick-started the whole community to remember their own links with the military and reignited our collective belief that we should do our utmost to ensure our military and ex-military are able to live the best lives they can,” said Stronger Communities Manager Lisa Swainston (pictured).

“For us, it wasn’t just about expressing our thanks to Ben and his fellow military through pomp and ceremony. Instead, we wanted to transform our communities to make them truly inclusive and to take specific account of the needs and challenges of the military.

“It’s not about giving them preferential treatment. It’s about recognising the special circumstances that those in the armed forces and veterans have and ensuring they are properly acknowledged in our services and policies.”

Transforming the approach

The authority has transformed its approach both as an employer and as a service provider. In its role as a community leader, it also supports other organisations across the town to develop the way they respond to the needs of service families and veterans.

As an employer, the council has brought about a cultural shift by training staff in military culture. All managers do an e-learning package and a veteran provides a one-day workshop to staff to educate about the distinctive aspects of military life and culture. So far around 1,000 of the authority’s 5,000-strong workforce has undergone training.

The authority also offers their reservist and cadet force adult volunteers up to ten days additional annual leave to enable them to carry out their duties and training requirements without reducing their personal entitlement. It also operates a scheme under which anyone who has served in the military is guaranteed an interview if they apply for a post they are qualified to do.

“Staff are under no obligation to let us know if they have any military connections or commitments,” said Lisa.

“But we want to be explicit to all our employees that they can be confident of our determination to provide a fair and supportive working environment.”

Big recruiting ground

Doncaster is a big recruiting ground for the armed forces with some estimates putting the number of military and ex-military at 1 in 6 of the town’s 313,000 population.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, it is against the law to discriminate against someone on the basis of a number of ‘protected characteristics’ such as their age, disability, race or religion.

An important development for the authority was its decision to treat military service as if it were a legally protected characteristic – which means all of its services and policies must ensure fairness and take proper account of military service.

This has led to practical changes. For example, in order to be accepted onto the authority’s housing list, people have to prove they have local links to the area. However, Doncaster Council acknowledges that proving such links is more difficult for military families and has removed the requirement for them.

Similarly, on education, it has put in place policies to give military families greater likelihood of securing a place in the school of their choice for their children when they arrive in the area.

To support military communities, the authority pioneered an ‘integrated referral model’ which has now been replicated by other councils across the country. Under this, staff are trained to be able to signpost members of the military and veterans to organisations both locally and nationally that can provide bespoke services for them.

“We work in collaboration with the NHS, the police and fire services as well as business,” said Lisa.

“It’s a work in progress but there’s strong commitment across the community to work in partnership to deliver a better deal for the military and ex military.”

Reserve Forces