It is a pleasure, as always, to follow my friend from across the water, Gavin Robinson. I want to talk about what my constituency—the community that I represent—is doing to implement the armed forces covenant at a local level and to pay tribute to and do right by veterans locally by repaying the debt we owe them.
My local authority, East Renfrewshire Council, works in partnership with two other neighbouring authorities in Inverclyde and Renfrewshire to ensure that our armed forces personnel and veterans want to come to stay in the area because they know that if they come to live there, they will be with a local authority that has them at the heart of the services that they provide. It co-ordinates access to housing-the-homeless services, and provides social care, welfare benefits, literacy support, and referrals on to statutory models. Through our local community covenant, the council safeguards the healthcare of armed forces personnel by ensuring that they are known to our local healthcare professionals as well as to local NHS specialist services.
Those who have served in the armed forces also have access to our veterans gateway—a consortium of expert organisations specific to the AFC who all offer different support to those in need. North of the border, one particular important partner is Poppyscotland, which offers incredible support to the AFC through their many branches, including, in particular, the armed services advice project, which is provided by Citizens Advice nationally throughout Scotland. That programme is embodied by East Renfrewshire Citizens Advice Bureau in Barrhead, which offers advice on housing, benefits, debt, and much more. Importantly, Poppyscotland also offers respite breaks for families, and employability services that support the family as a whole. Other Members have touched on issues for families, and that key part of the programme is extremely important.
There are over half a million veterans in Scotland, of all ages, many of them embattled by homelessness, unemployment, loneliness and other complex issues. For all that there are these great services out there, many particularly vulnerable veterans do not engage with services unless they have somebody in whom they have confidence to go with them. As a result, many miss vital appointments, which, in turn, impacts negatively on many aspects of their life.
I really want to pay tribute to an organisation called Fares4Free, which was set up by David Gibson in 2016, and offers much-needed transport assistance to veterans. It provides free transport by asking taxi drivers to give up to four free fares a month to help veterans to access important services and combat loneliness. It has paired this project with a campaign to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles staffed by trained ex-service personnel. It also provides drivers trained in mental health first aid to transport, accompany and support veterans, building up friendships and sharing confidences.
When I became a Member of Parliament and went to the Coming Home Centre in Govan—which is not in East Renfrewshire but just across the boundary in Glasgow—I was really surprised by how many gaps there were. A public who honour and value their armed services, as they do, would be shocked to know the extent to which they still require volunteers to get second-hand furniture, and to dip into their own pockets to go to the supermarket, so that a veteran has a bed to sleep on and milk in the fridge.
The AFC is fantastic, but in and of itself it is not enough—what matters is whether it is being implemented on the ground. I very much welcome the great steps taken by this Government and the progress update today, but we still have quite a long way to go before we can really give ourselves a pat on the back.