Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Foreword
This is the fifth annual update to Parliament on support for the Veterans and Armed Forces Community in Scotland. I previously served as Minister with responsibility for Veterans affairs, and I am extremely proud to once again be appointed to the role, one which enables me to support our veterans and Armed Forces community right across Scotland. I am pleased to provide this update which showcases the wide range of activity and the sheer volume of work undertaken across the Scottish Government and by public sector partners over the last 12 months in support of the Veterans and Armed Forces Community.
As with much of 2020, this last year has seen Scotland face significant challenges. Life has changed to a degree that could not have been predicted even 18 months ago. The effects of the pandemic have been felt across all sectors of society, from our children facing significant interruptions to their education, to the serious impact on the health and wellbeing of the population. But there have also been huge strides in our efforts to fight this disease, not least an effective vaccination campaign which has had a dramatic impact on hospitalisation rates. As life begins to return to normal, I very much look forward to ensuring that our veterans and their families face no barriers in accessing the support that they require, and that the effects of the pandemic are overcome as promptly and effectively as is possible.
2021 has also seen many charities facing severe financial difficulties. To help address this, the Scottish Government has made available £1 million to create a fund to provide direct financial relief to third sector organisations that provide support to the Armed Forces community in Scotland. I am pleased that we have been able to award funding to 19 organisations providing support for the Veterans and Armed Forces Community across Scotland.
This year also marks some truly significant anniversaries, including the centenary year of the Royal British Legion, Legion Scotland and the iconic Poppy appeal by Poppyscotland. I am thankful that this year we will be able to hold a special concert marking the occasion and that all of our veterans who were unable to jointly mark the anniversaries of VE and VJ day last year will finally be able to gather together in celebration. The role of our veterans charities cannot be overestimated and the vital support that they continue to provide to our veterans and their families across Scotland.
In addition, earlier this year also marked the 80th anniversary of the Clydebank Blitz in which the town was largely destroyed and suffered the worst destruction and civilian loss of life in all of Scotland during World War 2. I will be attending a memorial service at the end of November to remember those who were injured and killed in the raids and to pay tribute to all residents of Clydebank and survivors of the blitz for their resilience and determination, and willpower to rebuild their town.
As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, I am delighted to announce that we will also be taking the opportunity to review and refresh our initial response to the Veterans Strategy, published in January 2020. We will look at the extent to which our existing commitments remain valid and if there is an opportunity to add more detail to existing commitments and/or add new commitments.
I am acutely aware of the impact that COVID has had on our mental health and wellbeing, and that the pandemic has prevented many of the social events which are a vital lifeline for our veterans. As restrictions are slowly eased and our veterans are able to come together in a safe and secure manner, efforts to tackle social isolation will be resumed in earnest and in 2022 we look forward to contributing to the implementation of the Veterans Mental Health Action Plan.
I am pleased that the Scottish Veterans Commissioner has published two new reports on Employment, Skills and Learning, and Housing. These contain a number of recommendations for
the Scottish Government and, for the first time, the UK Government.
I look forward to enacting the plans we have in place to deliver the recommendations to the Scottish Government. As in previous years, addressing these recommendations is a key priority and one which I believe is hugely important.
I would like to thank the current Commissioner, Charlie Wallace, for his work and unfailing support to our veteran community.
Over the past year, The Veterans Employability Strategic Group continues to make good progress in improving employment opportunities for veterans. Representatives of the private sector are now working within the Group, and I look forward to continuing to highlight the huge benefits which employers stand to gain by offering sustainable and good quality employment to veterans and their family members. We continue to welcome a number of veterans into employment with government and I look forward to building upon the early success of the Going Forward Into Employment programme.
In closing, I am heartened by, and hugely proud of, what has been achieved in such a challenging time. I hope that the information which follows in this report goes to show that despite the limitations which have been placed on us all, we have made great strides in ensuring that our Veterans and Armed Forces community in Scotland receive the best possible support and care. But as always, there is more that can be done and we will continue to enhance our provision for veterans, Service personnel and their families across Scotland. They contribute a huge amount to our society and I look forward to ensuring that Scotland is the destination of choice for our Service leavers and their families.
Keith Brown MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans