The Armed Forces Bill

AFB 19

Written evidence from the Scottish Government

Thank you for your letter of 7 February to Bruce Crawford seeking a Scottish Government view on the provisions in the Armed Forces Bill relating to the Armed Forces Covenant Report currently under consideration by the Select Committee you chair. I am responding since I have the Ministerial lead in Scotland on veterans and many of the public services on which the Report and the forthcoming Covenant impact.

As you may be aware, the Scottish Government has contributed significantly to the production of the Armed Forces Covenant Report. I met with Professor Strachan last year and impressed upon him the need to recognise the Scottish legislative and structural landscape that will often require a different approach to the planning and delivery of new and developing initiatives for the Armed Forces community here. I believe this has been reflected in the Covenant Report. Moreover, in ongoing dialogue with their Ministry of Defence counterparts, Scottish Government officials have made clear that implementation of the Report recommendations and the introduction of the Armed Forces Covenant will require close collaborative working on the best way forward.

The six key areas and their accompanying recommendations in the Report are welcome. In my view they correctly focus on developing a strategy for the provision of services appropriate to the Armed Forces community and in a way that suit local circumstances. I

also welcome the identification of those strategic bodies and organisations that could make use of the Armed Forces Covenant. However, many recommendations require ongoing and careful consideration to establish a timeline for their introduction and how they might be arranged and funded.

The housing elements of the Report fall primarily to the Ministry of Defence since they are

concerned with Service accommodation. However, I have already made representations to

UK Ministers expressing disappointment over the decision not to extend coverage of the Armed Forces Home Ownership pilot into Scotland given that many Service personnel in Scotland face the same type of affordability problems as those faced by Service personnel in England.

Healthcare in Scotland is planned and delivered in a way that suits local circumstances and

the structure of Health Boards here. The Report acknowledges this different approach and

provides sufficient scope for the Covenant to be implemented in Scotland in a way that

reflects the needs and aspirations of the Armed Forces community. Indeed, the Scottish

Government has already moved forward on a number of fronts that improve healthcare

provision that are consistent with the aim of the Report.

I also endorse the general direction of the education related recommendations of the Report. While these are designed to improve opportunities for Service personnel I can confirm that the Scottish Government is already developing new initiatives and exploring ways in which to improve the educational experience of service children based in Scotland. Nevertheless, we are prepared to work with the Ministry of defence and other UK Departments on any specific initiative.

Finally, the Select Committee will wish to note that the Scottish Government fully supports the view expressed in the Report that veterans should be offered an ID card. We have already explored whether a card could be introduced in Scotland but established that this would only be possible with the full cooperation of the UK Government. Were a decision take on a UK wide basis to proceed with this recommendation, the Scottish government would be delighted to assist with the successful implementation of an ID card.

In conclusion, the Armed Forces Covenant Report provides an excellent platform for joint

working on the development and implementation of initiatives and services specifically

designed for the Armed Forces community. There is a need to tailor these in a way that fits with the Scottish legislative landscape and matches and compliments existing initiatives.

Significant progress has already been made but much more needs to be done, as identified by the Report. However, I believe the Report is a very good tool to help direct and deliver the Armed Forces Covenant in a fair and transparent way.

Alex Neil MSP

Minister for Housing and Communities

10 February 2011