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Armed Forces Covenant

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:25 pm on 2nd February 2017.

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Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows SNP Whip 3:25 pm, 2nd February 2017

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was coming on to that, and indeed will do so shortly.

For all the progress that has been made in recent times, there is clearly still much to be done to encourage veterans to seek the help they need and deserve. The fifth annual report does cover what has happened in Scotland but does not provide much detail, so I hope to provide that. In January 2014, Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown announced the creation of a Scottish Veterans Commissioner to act as an ambassador for ex-service personnel. On 28 June 2014, Eric Fraser CBE, a former Royal Navy officer, was appointed to that post. On 13 December last year, the Scottish Government announced that Mr Fraser was to be reappointed until August 2018. The commissioner has published three briefings on Scotland’s veterans: “Transition in Scotland”, in March 2015; “Report on Provision of Information on Housing for Service Leavers and Veterans in Scotland”, in August 2015; and, most recently, “The Veterans Community—Employability, Skills and Learning”, in November 2016. I recommend reading them—they read much better than their titles, which I have tried to enunciate.

As alluded to by my hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara, the Scottish veterans fund was established by the Scottish Government in 2008 to assist groups and organisations that offer assistance to Scotland’s ex-service personnel and their families and dependants. It is administered by Veterans Scotland and has been designed to provide discrete amounts of funding to one-off projects. However, after last year’s announcement of £600,000 of funding over the next three years, the fund will now accept applications for two and three-year projects. It is worth noting that one of our big employers in Edinburgh, Standard Life, has contributed £240,000 to the fund.

In February last year, the Scottish Government set out their ambitious agenda for the future in the report “Renewing Our Commitments”, with the goal of making Scotland the destination of choice for service leavers. On healthcare alone, since last year’s report on the covenant, the Scottish Government have put in considerable work to improve services for current and former service personnel. For example, in partnership with NHS Scotland, the Scottish Government have provided £1.2 million for 2016-17 to fund specialist mental health services for veterans. They also continue to fund and roll out a network of Veterans First Point centres across Scotland, so that any veteran can get help with any difficulties they have—and that is not confined to any one area.

The Scottish Government give veterans priority access to low-cost housing through the low-cost initiative for first-time buyers, and provide schemes to help with deposits for private renters. In addition, they have awarded £1.3 million of grant funding to the Scottish Veterans’ Garden City Association—another mouthful—to build new homes, 25 of which are now complete across six local authority areas, to support impaired ex-service personnel. I am delighted to tell the Chamber that I pass 10 of those new homes every time I visit my constituency office in Motherwell and Wishaw.

The Scottish Government support applications to the education support fund and encourage veterans and personnel to grasp the opportunities that the fund could give them. As an ex-further education lecturer, I have had practical experience of teaching service personnel —mainly those who were still serving but were committed to leaving the forces and preparing for civilian life—and I have to say that I found them all to be both committed and diligent.

In Scotland, the most obvious and far-reaching differences found by personnel leaving the services concern the provision of public services, most of which have been devolved to the Scottish Government and are now delivered by local authorities and NHS Scotland. It is almost inevitable that everyone leaving the military in Scotland will need to engage with those organisations as part of their personal transition process, whether about their health, housing, education or employment.