Veterans and Armed Forces Community

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

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Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

A rainforest has died today in the cause of my taking notes on members’ contributions this afternoon. As a former convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I hope that I can do justice to that sacrifice during the next nine minutes or so.

Alex Rowley asked whether we are doing enough for veterans. The honest answer is no, but as he and other members acknowledged, considerable progress has been made. We will, however, continue in that vein only if we work in the spirit of collaboration. I commit the Scottish Government to doing that now and in the future.

On Alex Rowley’s amendment, which Jackie Baillie also focused on, I am happy to commit the Government to continuing to work with veterans’ charities to address the undoubted challenges that the pandemic has posed, and is posing, for them. There is helpful realism in the sector that, because of the wide impacts of Covid, charitable giving in a general sense will suffer.

The bigger charities have the option of deploying judiciously some of their reserves, and I know of instances where that has been planned for. For the smaller charities, of course, that is less of an option. Veterans Scotland, which the Government funds, is there to direct and assist charities, and I will speak at its annual general meeting next week when the topic will, undoubtedly, be covered.

Building on the unforgotten forces model of close collaborative working and avoiding duplication strikes me as one way forward for the sector. I hope that I can reassure Alex Rowley about the extent to which the sector and the Scottish Government are alive to current and future challenges.

In relation to funding, the sector has been able to access mainstream charitable funds. For example, a number of veterans’ charities applied to, and were successful in securing support from, the Scottish resilience fund. I do not have the exact number but, by way of illustration, more than 60 applications were received from Royal British Legion Scotland branches and clubs.

In addition, the Scottish veterans fund is available to charities, and there is £200,000 in it this year. We also held two events to provide support and guidance on completing the application form for that fund in an effort to encourage bids from newer and, perhaps, smaller projects. As I say, I hope that that gives Alex Rowley some reassurance.

Keith Brown commended Maurice Corry for his work with the cross-party group, and rightly so. He went on to talk about employment. I hold to the view that, central to making progress in that regard is getting employers in the private and public sector who proactively recruit from the cohort to evangelise about that approach and to make clear the benefits that they derive from recruiting from among veterans. It was also important that the Government played its part and gave an example.

Mike Rumbles was on familiar ground when he referred to equity of access to services. He acknowledged that the delay in the roll-out of the veterans care network had been unavoidable, and he asked for a detailed briefing for members. I am more than happy to commit the Government to doing that. Given their interest in the subject and their contributions today, I think that a number of members of the Scottish Parliament would benefit from hearing about the work that the network is going to do, and they might also contribute some thinking, as veterans and their representative organisations have already done.

As I am, Annabelle Ewing is a fan of the V1P model, but I am quite concerned to learn of her worries about housing adaptations, so I will be happy to meet her and discuss the matter in due course.