I am delighted to present the Scottish Government’s fourth annual update to Parliament on support for the veterans and armed forces community. I advise that the Government will support Labour’s amendment to the Government motion.
Since 2017, we have committed to returning to the chamber annually to update members, and to showcase the work that we are doing to improve services support and ensure that there is no disadvantage for serving personnel, veterans and their families. I welcome the opportunity to deliver the update.
This week, we published “Scottish Government Support for the Veterans and Armed Forces Community 2020”, detailing fully what we are doing across ministerial portfolios, and how we are working with partners in the public, private and third sectors. Cross-cutting collaborative teamwork is at the heart of the Government’s approach, which is perhaps no better highlighted than through the veterans strategy. In January, we published our strategy response, detailing how we will deliver on our commitment through to 2028. Taking the strategy forward in Scotland will be a collaborative effort across Government and with the veterans community. I am committed to continuing our joint-working approach to improving the lives of serving personnel, veterans and their families.
By supporting effective collaboration, we see a force multiplier and improved outcomes. The best example of that is the unforgotten forces consortium, which is a partnership of charitable organisations that deliver services to older veterans in Scotland. Earlier this year, I was pleased, in fact I was delighted, to announce that the Scottish Government is to contribute £750,000 over three years to the consortium to improve the health, wellbeing and quality of life of veterans. That was a gesture of support for the work that the consortium has been doing, and for that model.
The Scottish veterans fund is another example of public, private and charitable sector collaboration. We continue to invest in the fund. This year, in partnership with Standard Life Aberdeen, we have funded 15 projects, with funding totalling more than £165,000. Since 2008, more than 170 projects have received a total of more than £1.6 million from the fund. The criteria for bids this year was extended to include projects that address the impact of Covid-19 on the veterans community.
I have been clear that supporting veterans and their families to develop their skills and to find fulfilling and meaningful employment is a priority. I was delighted to announce a recent refresh of the veterans employability strategic group, with new co-chairs, to develop an ambitious vision. Originally formed following a Scottish veterans commissioner recommendation, the group still has an important role to play in improving the opportunities for veterans in Scotland. I believe that it will benefit greatly from the fresh pair of eyes of our external co-chair, Sue Bomphray. Many members in the chamber will have met Sue in her role at Barclays, where she very much walked the walk in relation to veterans. I believe that she is the perfect choice for the post.
On the subject of walking the walk, I can also announce progress regarding veterans employment in the Government. The Scottish Government is offering work placements to service leavers and veterans through the going forward into employment programme. Working with the Career Transition Partnership, we will on-board ex-service personnel through short placements and fixed-term appointments, which could subsequently be converted to permanent roles. I am delighted that the first two candidates are expected to join the Scottish Government in a matter of months.
Following engagement with the Officers Association Scotland, nine veterans are now in temporary roles in the Scottish Government, primarily to support our response to Covid-19, with more joining soon. The nature of those appointments will not permit conversion to permanent roles, but they are another positive step in providing employment opportunities and experience for veterans.
On skills, the Scottish Government has committed to funding until 2023 the valuable work on mapping military qualifications against those that are recognised by employers. That will help employers and educational institutions to understand the skills and expertise that service leavers have to offer, and will support individuals to articulate their skills. That work has focused initially on infantry qualifications, but is now beginning to look at Royal Navy catering services qualifications.
I also highlight the project that is being led by Skills Development Scotland to support veterans to develop their skills and help to address the significant gap in the nation’s cybersecurity workforce. Funded by the Scottish Government, it aims to reskill those with military security training and experience for roles that include security consultants and operations centre managers. It was developed following research that was commissioned by SDS and which looked into ways that career changers and the unemployed could be reskilled for cybersecurity careers, using alternative flexible and accessible pathways.
The project will add technical cyberskills to the students’ existing training and experience. Twenty ex-military participants are taking part in the eight-week programme to learn ethical hacking and penetration skills, at Abertay University and through online study and work placements. The programme restarted in September, having been interrupted by Covid-19.
Not only serving personnel and veterans need our support; I remain determined that we do all that we can to help their families, too. Service children who need additional support for learning because of their parents’ service will have their needs met through the additional support for learning framework. In October, the Scottish Government published its response to the review of the implementation of additional support for learning, and accepted all the recommendations. We will continue to work with partners to deliver those actions, thereby ensuring that children and young people can flourish in their learning and beyond.
I can also announce that, at the end of November, a refresh of the capitalising on military talent toolkit will be formally launched, to include information on the benefits of employing military family members, particularly spouses and partners, and to improve the knowledge of employers on how to do that successfully, which will enable more partners and family members to secure good-quality employment and continue to participate and progress in the workplace.
My ministerial colleagues and I are also committed to improving access and removing barriers to healthcare for the veterans and armed forces community. I am delighted that the Scottish veterans care network, having suffered a delay in roll-out caused by the pandemic, will be formally launched later this week, with an immediate focus on developing a mental health action plan.
Improving veterans’ mental health is a priority. This year, we have invested £1.4 million in Combat Stress, and we have provided joint funding with six health boards for the Veterans First Point network. Since 2017, the Scottish Government has provided nearly £3 million to support Veterans First Point’s services, and I am pleased to confirm that funding for V1P will continue, at the current level, for 2021-22.
We continue to work closely with local authorities, and I am committed to supporting our champions network. This year, we distributed veterans and armed forces awareness e-learning to councils. It is intended particularly for their front-line staff, to improve understanding of the armed forces covenant and how its principles should be applied locally. Feedback has been extremely positive, and I look forward to discussing it when I host the champions at a virtual round table next month.
On housing, the Scottish Government continues to offer funding from the £1.3 million grant award to Veterans Housing Scotland to support it as it progresses proposals to deliver homes for disabled ex-service personnel. In addition, the open market shared equity scheme, which offers successful applicants a stake of up to 40 per cent in the equity of a property, continues to be available to veterans who have left the forces in the past two years.
My ministerial colleagues and I are intent on providing the best support for veterans, service personnel and their families. We will continue to work collaboratively with partners across all sectors, now and in the future, to improve that support. I very much look forward to hearing contributions to the debate from members of all parties.
That the Parliament recognises the importance of Scotland’s veterans and armed forces community and greatly values the significant contribution that they continue to make to Scotland; supports
The Strategy for our Veterans
, developed jointly with the UK Government, devolved governments and partners across the public, private and third sectors, which has a clear vision to ensure the best possible outcomes for veterans and their families; notes that, earlier this year, the Scottish Government published its response to its strategy consultation setting out how it will take that vision forward in Scotland, and agrees that the Scottish Government should continue to work in partnership across the Scottish public, private and charitable sectors, and with the UK Government and the other devolved governments, to ensure that the veterans and armed forces community receives the best possible support and access to services across Scotland.