It is now a month since I took over as the Chairman of Cobseo and I have spent the time visiting as many members of the Confederation as possible, including a visit north of the border hosted by Veterans Scotland. I am conscious that the membership stretches across the length and breadth of the country and that there is much more to see. The impressions that I have gained so far are no more than a snapshot. Nevertheless, the visits and conversations that I have had have been extremely stimulating and encouraging.
The Service Charities which make up the Cobseo membership are remarkably varied and diverse. Their objectives, structures, size, concerns and requirements are all different; some are small and very local, some are huge and national. However, the unifying purpose of this divergent group is a passion for the Armed Forces Community that they serve. In my contacts so far, whether in head offices, in London, or in the country, that passion has been striking and tangible.
It is a great privilege to Chair a Confederation which seeks to support the Service Charitable Sector and by extension the Armed Forces Community as a whole. Over the last three years in particular the Confederation has made significant strides in the way that it has delivered on its core objectives; the exchange of information and promotion of best practice, the development of coordinated courses of action, and representing the sector to Government. This progress is the result of a determination by the membership to work together for the benefit of all. I would also like to acknowledge the significant contribution of my predecessor, Lieutenant General Sir Andrew Ridgway, whose advocacy and energy has been an important factor in the developments which have taken place.
Change is always with us, but it is clear from talking to Members that the degree of change currently impacting upon the Armed Forces Community is significant, and in some areas fundamental. The size and shape of the Armed Forces has undergone, and is continuing to experience, radical change. In the years ahead still further change is planned. The effect is not only on the numbers of serving, and retiring personnel, but on the national footprint, support to families, the regular reserve mix and the size and profile of the veterans’ community. All this comes against the backdrop of a reduced military profile in terms of international deployments, a squeeze on government funding, devolution and delegation across government and an increase in regulation across all areas of the charitable sector. Furthermore, against this difficult background there was a general consensus amongst those whom I have spoken to, that the Service Charitable Sector will be asked to do more rather than less in the coming years.
In dealing with multiple new challenges, alongside longstanding issues, there is no doubt that Service Charities better serve the groups they are pledged to support when they work together. Given the current context it would seem that the need for cooperation and collective effort is needed now perhaps more than ever. As one experienced Member said to me ‘If Cobseo did not already exist we would now have to invent it.’ I am conscious that Cobseo only exists to serve the Armed Forces Community and to enable individual charities to better serve their beneficiaries. During my tenure as your Chairman I undertake to do everything that I can to ensure that your Confederation serves your needs, helping you to help those who need it most.
I look forward to meeting many more members in the months ahead and also at the Annual General Meeting scheduled for July this year.