Veterans

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 31 January 2017.

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Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I join other members in thanking Graeme Dey for bringing the debate to the chamber, and thank colleagues throughout the chamber for their considered and thoughtful contributions. I see that we have some veterans in the chamber.

There can be few families in Scotland without the experience of someone who has served in our armed forces. Graeme Dey said that he is the grandson of someone who served as a major in the armed forces. I am the grandson of Private Hamish Hepburn, who served in the Seaforth Highlanders in North Africa, Italy and France during the second world war.

George Adam rightly made the point that there is a strong veterans community in his constituency. I think that that would be true for all of us. Richard Lochhead made the important point that certain communities, such as his Moray constituency, have particularly strong veterans communities.

In February last year, the veterans minister Keith Brown published “Renewing our Commitments”, which highlighted many of our successes in supporting our military communities and veterans, and set out future priorities, including the ambition to make Scotland the destination of choice for service leavers.

I contend—I think that this view is shared by members across the chamber—that veterans and their families are a true asset to our society. We have set out in our labour market strategy a vision of a strong labour market that drives our country’s economy. Veterans clearly have many of the transferable skills that civilian employers can draw upon to help meet that ambition.

In 2014, the Government appointed the UK’s first veterans commissioner, Eric Fraser. I echo Graeme Dey in thanking Eric Fraser for the work that he has done in that role. Since his appointment he has produced three very useful and informative reports to help us shape policy thinking. His most recent report, which is on employability, skills and learning, highlights a number of good examples and offers suggestions for how employers can use the talents and skills of those who have served in the armed forces.

We know of the need to support those who have served. The outcomes for many are good, but for far too many they are not so good. We know the many benefits of employing veterans. David Torrance rightly said that veterans should be seen as an asset and Richard Lochhead rightly said that veterans should be seen as a resource. Graeme Dey highlighted those points when he described his experience of employing a veteran in his office. He suggested that mentioning that member of staff might lead to the need to offer him a pay increase. Graeme Dey might want to reflect on that. I am sure that members across the chamber could perhaps exert some pressure to achieve such a positive outcome for that member of staff.

Members raised a number of specific issues. Graeme Dey, Maurice Corry and George Adam talked about the need to better recognise qualifications that have been accrued during the time of serving and make them applicable in civilian life. We are examining that at a strategic level and discussions are under way now on how we can better ensure the transfer into civilian life of skills that have been acquired while serving.

Graeme Dey and Maurice Corry raised a point about encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to recruit veterans. I very much concur with the point that Mr Corry made—doing that is essential. We know that 85 per cent of employers across Scotland are SMEs, so if we are not working with that sector we are certainly missing a trick. Of course, the Scottish Government funds Scotland’s employer recruitment incentive, which provides employers with funding to take on young people, and early service leavers and veterans who are aged 16 to 19 are eligible for support through that mechanism. Perhaps we need to make sure that that is better understood.

An issue was raised about employers being better supported more generally, so that they could have the confidence to take on employees. David Torrance mentioned that SaluteMyJob and Business in the Community are developing a toolkit to support employers to recruit. We expect to launch that towards the end of March.

Maurice Corry mentioned the public sector. The report has a specific recommendation on the national health service. It is worth putting it on record that NHS Lanarkshire has developed a comprehensive framework to help recruit managers and candidates from the armed forces. Work is under way and we need to see how it can be spread further.

I reassure Maurice Corry and Jackie Baillie that, since the publication of the commissioner’s latest report, the cabinet secretary has accepted the commissioner’s recommendation to report to Parliament on an annual basis on progress towards the recommendations made in all the reports. I heard very clearly a request from Ms Baillie for an annual debate. That is an innovative suggestion and I will take it back to the cabinet secretary for him to reflect on it.

In response to the clear concern that we respond timeously to the report, I can let Ms Baillie know that a response is indeed imminent. The cabinet secretary has agreed to respond to the recommendations in this latest report before the next meeting of the cross-party working group on the armed forces community and veterans on 8 March. Generally, we have received the report very positively and welcome its tenor.

Many of the points raised in the report reflect work that is already being undertaken within the Scottish Government. For example, since 2008 the Scottish Government has committed over £830,000 in grants to 125 projects working with veterans across Scotland, through the Scottish veterans fund.

Over the next three years, the fund will provide £600,000 to help a wide range of projects to support veterans, including ones on employability. The fund includes a three-year £240,000 contribution from Standard Life, to whom we are very grateful, to support a specific stream on veteran employability.

We are engaging with employers across Scotland. We have been working with Business in the Community and SaluteMyJob to encourage businesses of all sizes, right across the country, to consider employing service leavers and veterans. I am also aware that there are a number of employers who are already engaged in good practice. I have been able to visit some. I am also aware, as Ms Baillie knows because we debated the Women’s Enterprise Scotland initiatives more generally, of the particular work that she mentioned.

There is much good work under way. I recognise the importance of the report and assure all members, and Mr Dey especially, given that he brought the debate to the chamber, that we are looking at the report very seriously and will do all that we can to make sure that Scotland is indeed the destination of choice for service leavers and their families.

Meeting closed at 17:47.