Veterans and Armed Forces Community

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

Many years ago, there was a saying that, if the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you with one. When I was a young Army wife, one of my first experiences was giving evidence to an inquiry into how to improve life for families and prevent soldiers from leaving the forces earlier than they might have done.

I am glad to say that the past 38 years have seen positive change, not least because of the partnership between the UK Government, the devolved Administrations and the private, public and third sectors. That partnership has been underpinned by a recognition that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen have a right to a family life. They should also be able to trust that the country they served well will not forget them after their service ends.

The annual report contains a number of welcome messages about the progress that is being made, despite the challenges thrown up by the Covid pandemic. The commitment to rolling out the Scottish veterans care network is to be warmly welcomed. I hope that the minister will tell us more about how the network will be promoted and how the Scottish Government will ensure that no veteran is unclear about where to go for help when they need it.

Ensuring that the first-class training that many service personnel receive finds equivalency in the world of work outside the forces is a positive step forward. There is absolutely no doubt that the British armed forces provide some of the best training anywhere in the world.

Despite efforts to increase the length and stability of postings, forces life still involves moving around and coping with separation. For children, having to move schools—potentially every couple of years—means the upheaval of making new friends, tackling a new curriculum if the education system differs, and re-establishing hobbies and club memberships.

Alongside that, service families often deal with stress and worry about their loved ones being sent to serve in an area of conflict. It is important that schools and teachers are given the skills to recognise and understand the impact of that on children. I am pleased that the update recognises that. Flagging school records so that all the people in a school know that a child has a parent who might be serving or away on active duty is an excellent step forward.

Building and sustaining a career can be difficult for the partners of serving forces members. In the modern world—especially when a serviceman leaves the forces and a family must settle—a dual income is often required, so it is important for a partner to build a career. If a person wants to move with their partner, they must be ready and prepared to change jobs and find openings where they can.

I am pleased that the General Teaching Council for Scotland is working with the Naval Families Federation to produce joint documentation—I hope that we will see it this month—that details requirements for teaching in Scotland. However, I ask the minister to say why the Scottish Government is not challenging some of the obstacles that the GTCS creates for teachers who are registered in other nations of the UK. Surely our schools could decide whether to employ individuals who are registered elsewhere. The requirement for an England-registered teacher to register with the GTCS strikes me as bureaucratic and unnecessary. It prevents schools in areas such as Moray from benefiting quickly and efficiently from the armed forces community when teacher shortages arise. I am also concerned that, if the pilot that is being run in colleges extends the GTCS registration requirement to college tutors, as is proposed, that will create further unnecessary barriers for people in armed forces families who wish to teach on postings to Scotland.

However, I will finish on a positive note. I echo the congratulations to the minister, Graeme Dey, because he has taken an extremely non-partisan and committed approach to our armed forces and veterans. We should all follow his example as time goes on.