The Strategy for our Veterans was published in November 2018. It sought to build on the work by organisations across the public, private and charitable sectors to support and empower veterans, by setting clear goals for the next 10 years to provide appropriate support for our current veterans and the veterans of the future. The aims were to ensure that every veteran would feel even more valued, supported and empowered.
This builds on the work that the Scottish Government was already undertaking to support the Armed Forces and veterans community, as set out previously in Our Commitments (2012) and Renewing Our Commitments (2016), and through our more recent annual updates to the Scottish Parliament. Veterans are assets to our society and my ambition remains to make Scotland the destination of choice for Service leavers and their families, offering high living standards, great job prospects and a society that respects and values their contribution. The launch of the Strategy provided a timely opportunity for us to take stock nationally about how we measure up to those aims currently and in the future.
Since its publication last year, we have been consulting extensively across Scotland about how to take the Strategy’s aims forward.
I have been clear from the outset that our response needed to be driven by those who have the lived experience of the Armed Forces in Scotland, most importantly veterans themselves and the many valuable organisations who support them. I also wanted to ensure that we examined the needs of the wider Armed Forces and veterans community in Scotland, including the families whose lives are often disrupted as a result of the mobility and separation that is an inevitable part of Service life.
I was particularly pleased to be able to participate personally in many of the consultation events that we conducted across Scotland, ranging from small gatherings of veterans at their regular breakfast clubs, to larger scale meetings and conferences, where I was able to hear directly from organisations including veterans charities and Local Authorities. Since taking over as Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans in June 2018, I have consistently been impressed at the candid and constructive nature of the views that have been represented to me and this was a constant through all of our consultation events. Views were presented with passion and enthusiasm, and always with the needs of veterans and their families at the forefront of the feedback. I have also been greatly impressed by the tireless dedication of so many people in Scotland’s veterans’ charities and organisations, and the wider support that is provided by hundreds of partner organisations who are focused on making improvements to the lives of veterans.
Further information about how we gathered the views that would inform our response to the Veterans Strategy is at the annex to this document. I hope you will agree that the consultation has been thorough and extensive and I am confident that the feedback that we have amassed in Scotland, combined with that which was collected by the UK Government during its wider public consultation, have given us a clearer picture than we have ever had before about the needs of the veterans community.
Overall, the feedback about support for veterans in Scotland was positive. There was also clear reinforcement of my view that veterans are assets to our society. The vast majority thrive and make a significant contribution to the success of our country, from the knowledge and skills that they offer employers and businesses through to the positive impact that they and their families add to their local communities.
But while no significant gaps were identified, there were a number of areas where potential improvements were suggested. This document summarises these and sets out what the Scottish Government and its partners are doing to address them. This is a long-term piece of work, and while we have identified some areas where rapid progress can be made, there is clearly a need for continued engagement going forward over the 10 years that the Strategy for our Veterans spans. Progress against the Strategy will therefore be reported through the annual update to the Scottish Parliament.
The positive picture evidenced by our consultation has also demonstrated the benefits that have been achieved by the Scottish Government’s decision to establish a Veterans Commissioner in Scotland in 2014. This is still the only such appointment in the United Kingdom. The recommendations of the Veterans Commissioner have focused our efforts over the last five years and made sure that our policies have been developed with views of the wider veterans sector firmly represented. I would therefore like to thank Eric Fraser, our inaugural Veterans Commissioner, who submitted detailed recommendations following his reviews of the Transition process, Housing, Employability, Education and Skills and Health and Wellbeing, recommendations which were accepted by the Scottish Government. I would also like to thank Charlie Wallace, the current Commissioner, who last year published his own independent assessment of our progress across all of these areas and a paper on transition.
The consultation also rightly highlighted the cross-UK approach taken to the Strategy. All partners welcomed the strong joint foundation provided by the initial publication and I remain committed to continuing the inter-governmental collaboration where appropriate to achieve the Strategy’s outcomes. Each Government also undertook separate consultations to explore what implementation might look like in response to the needs of their own populations and the different mechanisms for delivery.
Going forward, the Scottish Government will not be complacent in continuing to seek ways we can better support our veterans community to 2028 and beyond. We owe our veterans community nothing less and, as Veterans Minister, I and this Government, will do all that we can to ensure that they receive the recognition and support that they deserve.
Graeme Dey MSP
Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans