Welsh Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 131

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs

on Monday 21 May 2012

Members present:

David T. C. Davies (Chair)

Stuart Andrew

Guto Bebb

Geraint Davies

Jonathan Edwards

Nia Griffith

Karen Lumley

Mr Robin Walker

Mr Mark Williams

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Keith Brown MSP, Minister for Housing and Transport, which includes portfolio responsibility for Scottish Government policy on support for veterans, Geoff Huggins, Head, Mental Health Division, and Alister Murphy, Policy Officer, Defence Policy Team, Scottish Government, gave evidence

Q196 Chair: I will open the meeting, and thank you very much indeed, Minister, for coming along today. We are quite an informal bunch in Wales, but we will try to go through the rudiments of formality, I suppose, as this is a formal meeting. There are no members of the public here. We have a list of questions, but obviously we came up here with an open mind and I think it is fair to say we were really impressed by what we saw, so please feel free to give us any information that you think might be useful. Obviously we are hoping that we can put together recommendations that may lead to better services for veterans in Wales so it is with that in mind that we are doing this. Perhaps Nia could ask the first couple of questions.

Nia Griffith: Minister, if we could start off with your main responsibilities, which are housing and transport. What was the rationale behind putting the veterans’ responsibility in that portfolio?

Keith Brown: The veterans’ responsibility had previously been with the housing portfolio. What was different this time was that transport was part of the same portfolio. The First Minister said that he was looking to put housing and transport together, and I asked him if I could put veterans with that as well and he was happy enough to let me do that. Part of the rationale was the housing portfolio links. You could conceivably do the same with health, but housing had had that link beforehand, so there was that kind of logic to it.

Q197 Nia Griffith: Do you feel that there is sufficient time for veterans, or that there would be a case for a full-time veterans’ Minister?

Keith Brown: I know that the First Minister has also been keen to bear down on the number of Ministers. We have 129 MSPs so I think you have to, for various reasons, make sure that you do that, so the combination of different portfolios is inevitable. No, I don’t think it necessarily needs a full-time person. A lot of it is dependent on the actual portfolio holder- what they have made of it in the past-and I think there was an awful lot of very positive stuff done in the early stages of 2008 with the establishment of the Veterans Fund, which seemed to bring the veterans’ issues into the centre of the Scottish Government in a way that I do not think they had been in the past. Some of the positive things that we have been able to do stemmed from that one Minister having that kind of role. So, no, I don’t think so. Transport, you are quite right, I think the implications of your question is that it is a very demanding portfolio in its own right. But, no, it seems to work well just now.

Q198 Nia Griffith: From a UK perspective, obviously veterans is a broader issue than just defence, as it were, and so it has been suggested that perhaps it should come under the Cabinet Office in the UK Government and, as you say, there is also the link with health. Do you have any particular views on that?

Keith Brown: I would probably look at any proposal that was made if I was asked to make comment. I tend not to make comment on the internal workings of another Government and sometimes resent it if comments are made on the internal workings of our Government. At Westminster, you have a number of Ministers so you are able better to divide that responsibility. I think certainly having, if you like, a champion in the Cabinet would be a good thing, but I think that is for the Westminster Government to decide. If we were asked for comment, we would be happy to provide it on that.

Q199 Nia Griffith: Could you perhaps elaborate for us a bit more about the Armed Forces and Veterans Advocate that you have, and what the person’s actual role is and how effective it is?

Keith Brown: I think it is very much as described, that we have somebody who is an advocate, based obviously within the health directorate. I think the idea is that somebody at the very senior levels of the civil service is able to put and sometimes defend the interests of veterans there. It was established before I took up the office. I don’t know if Alister, who was around at the time, would know some more about the rationale for that?

Alister Murphy: It started off with the service personnel command people, of course, when every Department of State was invited to appoint an advocate at a very senior level. So the Scottish Government at the time, the First Minister, took the decision that the advocate in the Scottish Government should be in the health arena, simply because most of the commitments in 2008 were centred on the health and welfare of the veterans community and the Armed Forces community. It was given to the then Director General of Health and he filled that role. When that person retired and was succeeded, the new person could go to that particular role and that remains the case, although we try not to silo, as the Minister knows, because we answer to all the Ministers. Our Director General engages with other Director Generals to avoid the position where work is siloed into one area, health, because the veterans’ interests and the Armed Forces community’s interests cover so many different portfolio activities. It is appropriate and quite right that the Director General engages with other Director Generals on what was the command paper and is now the covenant in the modern paper.

Q200 Nia Griffith: You mention in the documentation that the support is subsumed in the Defence Strategy and Policy Team, so how exactly is the advocate supported, and is that advocacy effective?

Alister Murphy: The team is within Learning and Justice actually, although we work through the Health Director General, so there is an example of where it crosses the silos, but we are a very small team. We are often seen as the Scottish equivalent of the Ministry of Defence, but there are only half a dozen of us in the actual team, so we are a very small unit. Our work is centred on coordinating the delivery of the covenant and the today and tomorrow commitments across portfolio interests so that we can engage with civil servants in those particular portfolio areas to make sure that their policy development reflects what the covenant is expecting them to deliver through their ministerial teams and command, and then back to Mr Brown as well who has the overall portfolio responsibility for the veterans cohort. It is a small team. We can get all sorts of things coming our way-specific requests for information from the Ministry of Defence, for example. We occasionally have dialogue with the Welsh Assembly for exactly the same reason, and we often engage with external and internal interests, whatever fits the demand on our time.

Q201 Chair: Minister, could you tell us how often, if at all, you are able to meet with your counterpart in the UK Government?

Keith Brown: We have not even met as yet. We have had numerous exchanges in correspondence on particular issues, and we are keen to try to get that sort of engagement. I think it would help on a number of issues. The correspondence that we have exchanged has generally been conducted in a healthy manner and it is quite constructive, but there are some things that we feel quite strongly about that would benefit from a face-to-face discussion, and I don’t think we should wait too much longer before that happens.

Q202 Chair: You wouldn’t like to elaborate on that, would you?

Keith Brown: As I say, I wouldn’t want to give a false impression that we are diametrically opposed on all sorts of issues but, first, on the ministerial side a couple of issues would be on the Arctic Convoy medals, for which we have recently had an event here in Scotland. We feel very strongly that the medals should be awarded. I found out recently that the Russian Federation is looking to award a further medal to the veterans and it is being held up at MoD level. I think there is something about the particular status of this medal that requires it to be authorised by the MoD. It is a big issue across the UK and it is obviously a big issue here, so I suppose we have had an opposite point of view in relation to that. We have had some difficulty as well in trying to arrange visits, for example, even in Scotland to MoD establishments. It seems to me to take quite a long time to arrange those visits; I know there are considerations.

We also looked to try to have a visit to Afghanistan and to Germany. This morning I was at a veterans’ residence where they have already seen a change in the age of the veterans coming to them-they are getting younger and younger. They said that, I think, 15 years ago the average age was about 65. It is now about 45. They are seeing many more coming from Afghanistan whom they are having to try to help. I think if we in the Scottish Government currently have responsibilities for trying to make sure we have the best possible public services for veterans, we should really understand about their needs prior to them coming to us. Also if the previous plan happened-I am not too sure whether it still holds-of having units from Germany coming to Scotland to RAF Leuchars, that would result in a large number of people, many of whom will go straight into civilian life, perhaps coming back to Scotland. So I think it is only right that we have a better understanding of what needs serving personnel, who are about to become veterans, have. In fact, I think recently we had some criticism for not having gone, for example, to Afghanistan, but we have made the request. It seems to take an awful long time to get a response.

Having said that, there are other things on which we try very hard to find common ground with UK Ministers.

Chair: I think you would find that a lot of MPs agree with you on the Arctic Convoy medal.

Q203 Jonathan Edwards: Am I right in stating that you have seen active service yourself?

Keith Brown: Yes, a long time ago.

Jonathan Edwards: In the Falklands?

Keith Brown: It was, yes.

Q204 Jonathan Edwards: How has all that shaped your policy agenda in other areas?

Keith Brown: I suppose you have a particular take. I was only in the Forces for a short time-three years-and so I wouldn’t say I have extensive experience. But it was clear to me beforehand-from my observation of people who were in the Forces for a longer period than I was-that veterans have particular needs and are much more willing to express their needs when they are comfortable with the person to whom they are expressing them. Everybody, the general population, can be quite reluctant to express what their needs are when they go to see their GP, but that is probably exacerbated when it is veterans being asked what it is they really want. I thought that trying to make sure that veterans feel as able as they can to express their needs and conveying them to people who have a very good understanding of that could make a difference, so I was quite keen to do this particular job.

I also think, just by the way, for whatever reason in the UK just now it is probably the most benign environment for veterans for many years. There is general support and recognition that the job that they are asked to do is not one that they necessarily would choose to do, but they have to do that job, and people are able to make that distinction between what they have to do and the decisions made by the people who send them there. In the States for many years you have seen a very positive approach to veterans on the part of the public, and I think we are starting to get more of that here, so I think there is a real chance to capitalise on that with the public support there is for veterans now.

Q205 Chair: I appreciate that you have not met face to face with Andrew Robathan, but from your dealings with the UK Government, and perhaps the Welsh Assembly, is there anything in particular that you know of that you are doing differently in Scotland from what goes on elsewhere?

Keith Brown: I think the Veterans Fund is perhaps the obvious example. It allows us to give direct assistance to what we believe are worthwhile initiatives, sometimes on a pilot basis, sometimes for conferences, sometimes for a particular service. That is around £400,000 that has been set up, which in Scottish Government terms is a pretty substantial amount of money where none previously existed. My predecessors were finding money from budgets previously assigned for other purposes, so it is good news. If you look at the work that we have done in relation to Combat Stress, much of that is starting to happen in the rest of the UK but I think it was initiated here in Scotland with substantial support for the work that they do. I think Scotland benefits perhaps-and the veterans’ organisations themselves tell me this-from being a smaller environment where it is much easier to contact and get everyone round the table very quickly.

For the first time in the last Parliament, I was a founding member of the veterans’ cross-party group as a backbencher. So you have these obvious links. In fact, the place that I was at this morning, which is a veterans’ residence, is directly opposite the Parliament, and the chief executive was my company commander as well, so Scotland is a bit of a village like that. I think that we have been able to get everyone round the table and try to build on that public support that I mentioned. It is probably easier for us to do that in Scotland than it is certainly in the UK-not necessarily in Wales-and I think that is what we have done.

Going back to the previous point about how the advocate had come from a health background, I don’t know because I was not involved at the time, but there was a Commons committee came to look at the provision of public services for veterans in Scotland and it was a pretty critical report. It was a bit of a wake-up call, I think, for Scotland in 2007, and a lot of stuff that we have done since then has led to other things. I think we decided we had to address this seriously, making sure that veterans get the right healthcare when they need it. I think we have been a bit of a pathfinder in relation to some of those activities.

Q206 Guto Bebb: Minister, could you possibly give us an indication of the number of veterans that you have living in Scotland, and could you furthermore explain how that figure was calculated?

Keith Brown: I have mentioned Veterans Scotland, which is an umbrella organisation for veterans’ organisations in Scotland, and we find it very useful to have them because they bring together all sorts of interests. They have given us a figure of 400,000 veterans living in Scotland, and they would know better than us. We do not have even the facility that the MoD have, and they do not have the ability to say definitively what the numbers are in the UK, but we do not have any better intelligence than Veterans Scotland, so I am willing to accept that number. Of course, if there are other people-we are looking at ways in which we ourselves can be a bit more definitive about that, but that is our current guess, and it has come directly from Veterans Scotland.

Q207 Guto Bebb: In terms of the ideas that you have of getting a better figure, could you possibly share some of those?

Keith Brown: It is very difficult because obviously there are data protection issues that apply and also there is no central register at all for this. To me, it stands to reason that, if we are to improve the services that we provide to the veterans, we will have to have a better handle on where they are. They do have an eportal that I think shows the concentrations of veterans around Scotland, but it is not definitive in terms of numbers. It is neither easy nor cheap to do, but you could work with the various organisations that are currently there to try to get that kind of database built up. A previous idea was to have a question asked in the census, which would have been very effective but I think that was too late in the process. It could happen next time. But we do not have a fixed position on it that we are currently looking at. We are about to refresh our veterans strategy, and I think how we go about that will feature in that strategy.

Alister Murphy: If I may add to that, Minister, we did ask the Ministry of Defence if they could tell us and they could not do that either. They don’t have a definitive list. Our understanding is that they have a number of databases but these are related to specific benefits that have been paid by the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency. If they are getting, for example, a compensation payment for an injury, they are on a database, and if they are getting a pension, they are on another database. But apparently the databases don’t speak to each other, and they are not exactly definitive when it comes to veterans who have returned to civilian life and are getting nothing from the Ministry of Defence for one reason or another. So we asked that question, but did not get an answer.

Q208 Guto Bebb: On the Ministry of Defence, I think I am right in saying that it has defined a veteran as anyone who has served in HM Armed Forces at any time, irrespective of the length of service. Do you think that is a useful definition, or do you think it is possibly too open ended?

Keith Brown: That is a definition that has been given and it is also, I think, accepted in the veterans’ community in Scotland, but not uncritically. There are organisations that have concerns about that. We are happy to accept it as a working definition just now in the absence of a better one. Having that kind of maximalist position means we are unlikely to exclude anybody, whereas if we had a more minimalist position, there is a danger we would exclude people. We have tried to go on the basis of what are the needs of the individual veteran, and somebody who has served for a day is going to have different needs. The needs that they have would, by and large, be preexisting needs that would not, by definition, be to do with their time as a service person. We are happy to work with that, although also willing to look at further definitions if they enjoy the support of the veterans’ community.

Q209 Guto Bebb: So in terms of the Scottish Government, there have not been any efforts to redefine a veteran?

Keith Brown: No.

Q210 Mr Williams: I want to turn now to the coordination of services in Scotland specifically. One of the recurring themes of the evidence we have taken so far is the extent to which there is a lack of clarity in terms of where responsibility ultimately lies, in our case the Welsh Government, the UK Government, MoD, health service, local government, or the third sector. Could you elaborate on the role of the Veterans Programme Scottish Steering Group and the extent to which you have sought to bring some clarity to that in terms of responsibility?

Keith Brown: It is important that we try to clarify that, although I think we have tried to work in a collegial way so far. I am not trying to make a partisan point, but there seems to me to have been a clear change in 2007-08 in the way that veterans’ issues were dealt with in Scotland, not just in terms of the Government but, as I have mentioned before, for the first time we had a cross-party group established in the Scottish Parliament that enjoyed support from all the parties. So there is a clear change at that point. What we have tried to do is work collegiately with the veterans’ organisations that are far better placed than we are, and I think if we are honest we are coming to this fairly fresh in Scotland in terms of the Government and even the Parliament so we have very much been willing to be led by them.

You said about the confusion that can exist between the MoD, voluntary organisations and the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. I think that is true. Veterans Scotland is our means of trying, not to cut through that, but certainly bring some focus to it. For example, this morning I had a discussion about the impact that welfare reform is likely to have potentially on veterans who are in housing just now. We have an even greater dispersal of responsibility there. The point was that if the Universal Credit goes through and veterans are then being asked to establish bank accounts they didn’t previously have or to manage their finances for their housing costs, that could well lead, in this person’s view, to veterans no longer having that accommodation.

It gets quite confusing. The way that we have organised things is that Veterans Scotland have various pillars, one of which is housing. In fact, the chap I mentioned is the head of that pillar. We have organised ourselves through Veterans Scotland and work very closely with them, and through them we work with the charities that are involved. It is a complex area that is, if you like, a discretionary area for the Scottish Government. We do not have an obligation in the way we have to do with education or health. We have an eagerness to help out.

Q211 Mr Williams: How often does this steering group meet?

Alister Murphy: It meets three times a year, and it is mainly at an official or ministerial level, but it is an opportunity for the veterans’ community to raise the sort of points the Minister has just alluded to there with either ourselves or the Ministry of Defence, where one of us will be in a position to answer their questions or take forward their concerns to the appropriate people to go back and give them an answer. If, for example, it is about the veterans’ discount card, which is currently being developed by the Ministry of Defence, the veterans’ community can come to that meeting and ask for progress on how things are going. They can ask about what are the particular obstacles or how it is going to be distributed. They can raise concerns around, perhaps, the cost; many think that perhaps that money could be better spent in other ways. The Ministry of Defence officials who turn up at that meeting are able to take that thing away. Similarly, they can come to us and ask us questions in regard to things like how the prosthetic limb project is going at NHS Lothian and that sort of thing, and we have been able to feed that information back to them.

So the steering group is a conduit for information exchanges as much as anything else. Historically it used to be a case of each of the Government Departments, the Ministry of Defence and ourselves, telling the veterans’ community what was going on or what had gone on, whereas what we have tried to do latterly is turn that around into something more proactive and forward looking, and turn the meeting into more of what we are going to be doing and how the veterans’ community can help influence the work of both the Ministry of Defence and ourselves.

Q212 Mr Williams: Is there a role there for local government? Are there local government representatives so that those veterans’ organisations can input in, say, the development of the community covenants?

Alister Murphy: Yes, there is. We have invited the local government union up here, COSLA-I think it is called the Local Government Association in England and Wales-to come along to those meetings, but they have never been able to get to one for one reason or another.

Keith Brown: Having said that, this morning I think we have had some progress. At the meeting this morning, COSLA has now agreed to meet. We have champions in each local authority as well. We have, I think, about 20 or 32 that have nominated a champion for veterans, and we expect the others hopefully to follow suit fairly soon. We have just had elections here, so we have a new COSLA being developed, but there has been some progress in that COSLA have now agreed to send somebody along to the veterans’ cross-party group I mentioned. The chap I mentioned this morning who is the head of the housing pillar in Veterans Scotland is having meetings regularly with COSLA, so it is starting to open up now.

Q213 Mr Williams: If local authorities were being a bit slow on the uptake on the development of community covenants-I think the picture in Wales is quite mixed-where would the encouragement, therefore, to get their act together come from, from yourself, Minister, or from this group or from the MoD?

Keith Brown: I have worked on local authorities and there was more encouragement, and that is how we are trying to do it. We had a thing in 2007, a concordat between local authorities and the Scottish Government that changed things. I came straight to the Scottish Parliament from local government. It was, I think, fair to say that local government very often felt they were told to do things and often not funded to do those things by central government. We tried to change that to have a concordat that took away an awful lot of ring-fencing, so that kind of obstruction was taken away. We have tried to pursue the role of encouraging, although we are open to the idea of a more structured approach, and we are looking at this during the refresh that I mentioned earlier. But so far I would say there is no political lack of willingness to try to take it up. Whether it is followed through in every area as well as it could be is an open question, which will not be resolved until the new authorities really find their feet.

Q214 Mr Williams: We have had evidence from the Royal College of Nursing and the BMA, which have talked about unresolved issues regarding provisions for healthcare, although obviously the project we saw this morning and what you have said so far has been very encouraging. In your take, what are the unresolved issues in terms of responsibility?

Keith Brown: In terms of responsibility? You have health organisations in Scotland that directly report to the Minister for Health, obviously, but you also have community planning partnerships locally, which are a combination of the health service, the council that leads on it and possibly other bodies, and I think we are still working through that process. But one of the issues that are still to be resolved is, in relation to health, the CHI number, the number that somebody gets in Scotland when they first access the NHS. One of the complaints that you will hear from service people quietly is that if they get themselves to the stage where they go and see a GP, that GP does not have an understanding of what the service background is, what a veteran’s needs might be, and also might not have access to records that that person has had because they never followed them from where they have been previously. The process we are going through with the CHI number should get to the bottom of that, first so that everybody has a number and so that people have their records with them when the doctor is seeing them. It also alerts the doctor to the fact it is a veteran they are speaking to and they might want to think about that as well.

I was lucky enough a couple of years ago to be at an RAF reception and every member who had put their name in got the chance to have a shot in a Tornado, which I won so I went to Leuchars to go in this Tornado. The medical examiner, the person from the RAF who examined me, was telling me that he, obviously a fully qualified doctor, felt he was not part of the continuous professional development that happened in the wider NHS and his wife, who was a GP in Dundee, did not feel that she was properly given support when she met veterans. Dundee is an area where you have a large number of service personnel. You have both 45 Commando at Arbroath and you have RAF Leuchars. So there seems to be that disconnect and we have worked hard to try to see how we can do that through GPs being given more background leaflets that have been produced, which is this one here, going to GPs’ surgeries, and also working with the GPs themselves so that they understand the particular needs of a veteran. Maybe there is a need, for example, to probe a bit more into certain issues to find out.

Those, I suppose, are two issues that we have not resolved yet but we are working through to try to resolve them so there is a better and more seamless service provided to veterans.

Q215 Mr Williams: You said at the start, and I think it was very clear this morning from our visit to the veterans’ project, that if we are ever going to combat some of these problems the veterans need to have real confidence in the people whom they are talking to, and that came out strongly talking to ex-servicemen in particular as a real strength of the system and the project we saw.

Keith Brown: It is when the veteran thinks the person on the other side of the desk has some understanding of what they have been through. Whether it is confidence or just that reassurance and trust that is there, it is hard to establish. I think it is probably true, going back to the previous point, that ex-service personnel do like-going back to the military hospitals that were there before-the environment which they are in; they feel more comfortable in that and the person will understand them.

Chair: We will take a copy of that leaflet, if we may.

Keith Brown: Sure.

Q216 Jonathan Edwards: You mentioned, Minister, the veterans’ champions in local authorities and they are also on local health boards. What essentially are their roles, and how do they coordinate activity around the nation in Scotland?

Keith Brown: On the first point, it is to be, I suppose as the title suggests, a champion. For example, if they are the ones who can identify early where there is a gap that can be better met by changing practice or providing knowledge or training, they can do that. If they see there is something that is not currently being done, especially in areas where there is not a preponderance of military personnel. There are not many of them in Scotland, actually. Most of the areas around Scotland, because of the military history of Scotland, have those areas, but if you are not near them, you do not come across those kinds of issues regularly so the champions will be there to make sure that those gaps can be filled, and also that they are cross-cutting issues. We have issues in relation to transport as well for veterans. So I suppose that is the kind of job they would do. Do you want to say how they co-ordinate, Alister?

Alister Murphy: There has been one conference already, and there is another planned for later this year that is being organised on our behalf by Veterans Scotland, where we are bringing all the champions together with a view to getting to them and from them information as to how they can better deliver their services as a champion. That includes the coordination of, for example, local authority services, and where there are examples of good practice the champion can make that available to other champions so that other local authorities can follow through. Exactly the same happens in the health boards under the stewardship of the Director General, where there are meetings twice a year where the Director General calls together health board champions, and again it is an information exchange. It is about signposting. It is about dispute resolution. It is about ironing out the problems that people are experiencing in bringing to the champions. If someone has a particular solution to a problem that another champion would like to learn about, there is an opportunity to do that.

There is another dimension to all this that is called the Firm Base Forum, and I know the Minister will come on to this, so I will not steal his thunder. It is a collaborative arrangement we have with the Armed Forces in Scotland, and they too try to draw people together from champions, from government, from local authorities, from health boards, from the veterans’ community, from the charitable sector, with a view to exchanging good practice, finding out where the problems lie, tasking people with finding solutions to these particular problems, and that in itself is another way in which these issues can be rehearsed and tackled collectively.

Q217 Stuart Andrew: First, I want to compliment you on the services that we have seen this morning. They really are first-rate, and I think the testament to that was what we heard from the veterans themselves. I think that is important to say. I wanted to expand a little more on the signposting, because that clearly is a big issue that we have heard all over the country. You mentioned a leaflet. How successful has that been, and what have you learned?

Alister Murphy: That leaflet has not gone yet. It is about to go.

Q218 Stuart Andrew: I see. Is that the "Have you served your country? Taking care of veterans" leaflet?

Alister Murphy: That is another one.

Q219 Stuart Andrew: That is another one. How successful has that one been?

Alister Murphy: How do you judge its success? It is made available in all sorts of different places, GP surgeries, dental surgeries, social work departments, Veterans First Point, within the charities community and it can be obtained online. So there are different ways in which it is distributed. How much it is actually used? Well, that we have not been able to-

Keith Brown: To come back to your point, signposting is really important but again, as recently as this morning we are seeing that signposting in many cases is simply not sufficient. There has to be much more active management of the situation. It is important. As I said before, with Scotland being fairly small and everyone being able to contact each other, signposting is important. The example this morning was of veterans who were staying as residents in a veterans’ residence and about to make that move to either a job or alternative accommodation, and simply signposting them on to other people who can support was not deemed to be sufficient. So, for example, they made sure that the veteran had at least £40 in their pocket every week, that they were meeting other friends, that they were having support in their tenancy, because taking that tenancy can be quite a frightening prospect for veterans. So, signposting is important, but I think we also recognise that active management of the process is really important as well.

Q220 Stuart Andrew: What sort of work is being done in support of the spouses or partners of veterans? Often, they perhaps get overlooked and I wondered whether you have done any specific work in that area.

Keith Brown: I think people are much more aware of that than they used to be and again, perhaps just because I have come from there this morning and I know it well, the veterans’ residence that I was referring to allows spouses to stay with their partners in many cases. To the extent that the demographic is now of younger people coming forward and often that means that they are single, I think the concentration has been on trying to make sure that the family as a support unit step in where there are issues with some challenging behaviour on the part of veterans so that can be managed. I am not saying we are getting it right everywhere by any means, but I think there is much more a focus now that, if you are trying to sustain somebody in civilian life, especially when they have perhaps spent a long time in barracks, you are going to have do a lot more than just find them somewhere to stay, hand them the keys and walk away. I think it is recognised that we have more work to do on that.

Q221 Mr Walker: We have heard a lot of evidence of the gaps sometimes between people’s service medical records and the NHS. Your written evidence referred to an NHS data capture process that is going on. Can you expand on that and explain that?

Keith Brown: That was the CHI that I mentioned earlier. It is the idea that you would automatically get a number in Scotland if you accessed the NHS when you were born there, but obviously that does not capture people who then move to Scotland. For example, I was in 45 Commando and the vast bulk of guys there were from elsewhere in the UK, many of whom never wanted to go there in the first place. It is one place they didn’t choose to go but most of them, once they had gone there, did not move away afterwards, so they would not have had that NHS number initially. The NHS, as you will know, is completely devolved in Scotland. So we are trying to make sure that everybody has that number so that, just as I said before, there is not that gap of a veteran going to see their GP and the GP not knowing any of their preexisting conditions or medical history. Also, for those who have come from elsewhere in the UK, or overseas in fact, and settled in Scotland, we can try to close that gap, and that is through the CHI number initiative, which I mentioned.

Q222 Mr Walker: They get that number when they come to Scotland and access the NHS for the first time. Is that right?

Keith Brown: That is right.

Q223 Mr Walker: That would then follow them. Would that enable their records to be ported across any more easily from the MoD?

Keith Brown: Well, again this is back to the MoD situation. We have asked the MoD and we are hopeful that we will get a positive response to that but, as in many cases to do with the welfare of veterans, we are in the MoD’s hands.

Q224 Mr Walker: You mentioned that health is a devolved issue in Scotland and we have seen from our evidence, both in England and Wales, that there is enormous variability in terms of the level of awareness of GPs and also probably the application of the priority to that. Do you think that is any better or any different in Scotland?

Keith Brown: I think it is better now in Scotland than it was four or five years ago. I mentioned that the Defence Committee came, and they pointed to some real gaps in provision. I think it is better than it was, but I don’t think we are where we have to be yet. Going back to the point I made before, raising awareness in the health professions of the needs of veterans is still a crucial challenge for us and that is why we tried to produce this material. You mentioned the sort of champion we have in the Scottish Government coming from the very top of the health directorate and also trying to make sure that continues across and comes down to everybody serving in the health service. I think we still have some further work to do, but we are better than we were before.

Q225 Mr Walker: In the submission, you talk about ensuring service personnel and their families who move from other areas of the UK can keep their relative place on waiting lists. How does that work? How can you do that?

Keith Brown: What we said is that, rather than trying to provide an advantage to veterans or former service personnel, we have tried to eliminate any disadvantages. The disadvantages they will have are that they have not been able to accumulate points on a housing list because they have been not eligible to join. So we have encouraged the local authorities who have responsibility in this area to award points for the period for which somebody has served. Beyond that, it is often the case that you have to prove a local connection to improve your housing position on the list, and we said that that shouldn’t happen. Service personnel should not have to prove a local connection; you should get that advantage right away. So that is the way we have tried to tackle the idea that by serving your country overseas you have missed out on something that you shouldn’t have. That is what we are trying to tackle.

Q226 Mr Walker: But in terms of the NHS, if someone is on a waiting list and they are moved as a result of their service in the Armed Forces, are you able to access the data, I suppose, of where they were on the waiting list?

Keith Brown: I am not sure that would be a criterion for having a place on the waiting list in any event. We have a pretty good record on waiting lists in Scotland now and each area-outwith what they do with veterans-has its own requirements to meet certain targets for waiting lists, so I am not aware of that having been an issue before now. We tend not, I think, to have taken into account where somebody is on a waiting list before they came to that area. They are based on medical need.

Q227 Geraint Davies: Minister, like other members, I was very impressed with the service that we saw today. Can I ask you about the prosthetic limb project in NHS Lothian, how that is going, and how you anticipate coping with the growing demand from the predicted increase in the numbers, with Help for Heroes saying that the majority of people who will need their services are yet to come through the system?

Keith Brown: I think it is working very well. I think it was one of those things that was identified when the Defence Committee came. We, for our part, were given around £300,000 initially in 2008 to fund the work relating to the development of the centre in Scotland, and that was to assist Headley Court in terms of local rehabilitation and the overspill of military casualties. The main purposes of it have been to liaise with the Scottish Government, via the Military Liaison Officer, and to define the state-of-the-art range of equipment, to identify training and equipment needs for Scottish centres. We have also tried to highlight the issue. There is a lot you can do in Government, but sometimes by raising awareness, you can achieve other things and so the First Minister has been involved in making sure the issue has been raised.

In order to ensure that the centres work with veterans to the standards required, we have funded various pieces of equipment to ensure that all five centres that we have-you mentioned the one in Lothian-have that similar capability. We have also provided training for the staff to use the equipment as well. My impression is it is certainly an improvement on where we were before but, as I have said of a number of other areas, it is something we are learning about more day by day. Is there anything you want to add to that, Alister?

Alister Murphy: The only thing I would add is that it is an issue that is exercising civil servants north and south of the border, and we know that, but the Murrison report on prosthetics has opened up a few challenges for us in actually delivering an adequate service in the way that the Murrison report wants us to. There is quite a bit of travel, I think it is fair to say, Minister, that we still have to do on this point. The Partnership Board-I don’t know if you are familiar with the Partnership Board that is run by the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health-are looking at this issue and there is a Scottish input into that in the person of David Gow who is the head of the prosthetic service up at the Astley Ainslie Hospital here in Edinburgh. But there are a whole raft of issues to be addressed in meeting the Murrison recommendations in respect of prosthetic limbs and state-of-the-art prosthetics.

Q228 Geraint Davies: Can I ask you something about Remploy, which was originally set up for people coming out of wars with lost limbs? Obviously, there is a question mark over the future of Remploy, to put it mildly. Do you feel the sort of thing they do at Remploy is still relevant for former veterans, some of whom may have lost limbs, in terms of a training system to get them back into mainstream employment? It is one of things we discussed this morning, with the sort of cliff edge, leaving military service, then trying to find a job and having to get through that transition, in particular if you are suffering trauma or physical disability. Is there a role for something like Remploy as a training establishment perhaps?

Keith Brown: Remploy has a much wider role, endorsed by a much wider cohort, if you like, than just for ex-service personnel, and obviously it is a Westminster responsibility. There is no reason I can imagine why Remploy shouldn’t be able to employ people with particular needs if they come from the services, but that has not been their focus in recent years, certainly in Scotland. In fact, what is happening just now is a reduction in that service. I think three centres in Scotland are going to close. So I am not sure whether they feel they would have the resource to make a major change to try to take on ex-service personnel.

Q229 Karen Lumley: The visit we had this morning was really impressive. I wanted to ask you why you decided to make that a one-stop shop for veteran services-that model.

Keith Brown: We have tried that wherever we can. Another thing we have had is the eportal. They find that it can be quite bewildering for veterans who, in many cases, will not go looking for help in the first place, so you have to try to make it as easy as possible. In fact, I was at a veterans’ event a couple of weeks ago, and two chaps were there, who found that the most effective way of getting people to come and seek assistance was word of mouth from somebody else who was in a similar position. So I think the idea of making it as simple as possible is critical to that. I know that Geoff works in this area. Do you want to say anything else about that, Geoff?

Geoff Huggins: Broadly, we applied the same design principles that we apply to developing other new services: we collaborated with the clinicians, the managers, and we got to know the territory. We spent time with veterans and with people who ran veteran services, and we basically built the system around that. We were aware because we had done the work, at least partly also following from the HASCAS work that had taken place since 2005, in the context of developments that were taking place in England, and I think one of them is also in Wales. I guess what we were seeing there were existing models of service for the general population simply being applied to veterans and veterans being signposted to them. Our knowledge was that, while some veterans would take benefit from that, others wouldn’t, and so we were looking for something that was more of a veteran-shaped door for them to go through. To be fair, it is an approach that we have taken to a range of other mental health groups as well, simply to ensure we have the maximum reach that we can have. I think the best testament is the fact that, whereas most other services that are run for veterans around mental health continue to work on the basis of referral from healthcare systems, this one now largely runs on referral from veterans. As a model, you can see why it won two UK awards last year.

Q230 Karen Lumley: Do you intend to roll that out into other NHS trusts in Scotland?

Geoff Huggins: Well, of course, we don’t have NHS trusts in Scotland. That has also been, I guess, one of the reasons why we have been able to do more for veterans. What we are likely to announce in June is that, yes, we will and that we probably will follow what the graph and the map tells us about where veterans are. We will probably-although we are still to agree it with Michael Matheson, so please don’t tell him I told you this-commit to launching one or two further such services over the next three years, drawing on the expertise of people like Jill Morton and Claire Fyfield; I don’t know who was there this morning, in terms of their knowledge from the Edinburgh service, and then also link the new services into the Lothian service at the outset so that they gain this integrated knowledge. It beds in the idea of peerto-peer work, it is using evidence-based methodologies, and it is supporting the whole person.

Q231 Karen Lumley: Do you intend to continue funding this service at a similar level in a difficult time?

Geoff Huggins: Yes, we are currently funding them to the tune of £200,000, along with what we give to Combat Stress for a range of things, but we see that as a strategic investment that is producing significant dividends. We will have a further discussion about where we find the money for the two further services, but we will also be looking for in kind commitments from the appropriate health boards locally.

Q232 Karen Lumley: Do you have any concern about the co-ordination of support for veterans between the NHS and the various charities?

Geoff Huggins: It has become a wee bit more problematic because we have seen-you will probably recognise this-over the last two or three years a phenomenal influx. On a very regular basis we are receiving reports and information about new services that have been set up within my area of expertise, which is mental health, some of which have a very flaky evidence base, or indeed no evidence base. So what we are seeing at the moment is almost like a degree of competition for clients at times and that is, I guess, raising issues around co-ordination but also over time raising issues over safety in terms of ensuring that we are able to ensure that veterans get high quality, evidence-based, appropriate treatments. It is more the proliferation that is producing a challenge, and I guess we would probably rather have the proliferation than a scarcity challenge.

Keith Brown: I think we would always be very keen to see people who have a genuine interest trying to do something. There are some fantastic initiatives across Scotland, including the horseback initiative, which is in the north-east of Scotland, helping veterans there. We always want to encourage that initiative or that sense of trying to trying to help, but I think veterans’ organisations themselves will say, certainly to me, that they have some issues with the proliferation of potential providers there. The various State agencies that can carry out checks, the Care Commission and others, can be quite stretched by that proliferation. We want to ensure, of course, that more and better services are there for veterans, but that the services that are provided are meeting objective standards. We are certainly not looking to try to dissuade anybody from getting involved and doing their bit, but we have to make sure they have the right standards applied, too.

Q233 Jonathan Edwards: We have heard differing opinions about the merits of establishing rehabilitation centres for veterans with mental health problems in Wales. It seems to me, from my understanding of how things are working out, that the MoD wants to locate these centres around the bases, which in a base context have to be in England, rather than where people return to live. Do you have any view on where these centres should be located?

Keith Brown: I think it doesn’t take an awful lot to work out that they should be based where people live: the idea that you are trying to provide a stable environment with the support networks in place, family and the wider community, and also the place where people have come from, if you have the services as close as possible to where they live. I know there are challenges in terms of the military, coming from one place to join the military and sometimes going back to a different place. We have made representations to make sure that we have a sufficient resource in Scotland when the MoD considers that.

Q234 Jonathan Edwards: Combat Stress is building a short-stay residential centre in Ayrshire, and Help for Heroes are looking to build one of their personal recovery centres in Edinburgh. What role does the Scottish Government play in choosing those locations?

Keith Brown: Well, first of all, we were major funders in relation to Combat Stress. In relation to Ayrshire, there was, I think, a kind of critical mass of different organisations that were there already, which helped. Were you involved in that, Geoff?

Geoff Huggins: Yes. Combat Stress has been in Ayrshire for a considerable period of time now, I think upwards of 20, 30 years, so it is an existing service that is at Hollybush House. The discussion that we are engaged in with Combat Stress at the moment is about changing the nature of the service that they offer, in that historically they offered quite a wide-ranging service that probably met the needs of two or three different groups of people. They had the very old veterans, who tended to come to Hollybush House for a degree of respite. They would go to the races at Ayr and have two weeks out each year and have a bit of a catch-up and a general medical check-up and things like that. They had another group of people who would be maybe dipping in and out of services and who would be maybe coming and doing a week or two weeks of group activity once every 12 months, but basically not making any real progress in their life.

So when we began strategically to fund Combat Stress in 2008 in Hollybush House, the discussion that we had at that point was about bringing the programme they offered into line with best practice, which is now what we are seeing in England with the project that they picked up from Mark Creamer in Australia. We have agreed and we have been in discussion with them about recalibrating with them what we fund them to do in Hollybush House. We have agreed that, broadly from sometime later this year, we will agree that we are purchasing a certain number of short-term places for that programme as part of a broader treatment model. I guess we like to think that we gave them some of the time through the strategic funding we gave them three years ago to do that development, which they then, very helpfully, sold to the Commissioning Board down in the NHS in England. I am not so sure about the proposal in respect of Edinburgh. I am not sure that they have discussed that with us at this stage.

Keith Brown: I think there are different parties that are quite keen for that to happen. I think Napier University is one of them, but we are much less further down the road in relation to that.

The point that was made about the nature of the service that is provided-I think it was true that some of the professionals down there felt that that idea of coming along for a week every so often was not progressing matters, and that having somebody there for a longer time to work with is important. We have had a report commissioned in the Scottish Government, the Christie Report, which is about preventative spend. I think there is a recognition that if you tackle some of these issues in a more serious way at the start, you can save yourselves substantially, you can save the person involved from some continuing ill-health, but you can also save the public purse substantially as well by tackling it seriously at the start.

Q235 Jonathan Edwards: The Daily Record, a fine Scottish paper, has been highlighting the case of Marine Michael Glen. What assistance does the Scottish Government give to veterans with regard to buying or renting social housing?

Keith Brown: We have mentioned some of those things already but it is worth pointing out that-I am trying to stay away from the specific case, which is quite unusual in a number of respects-the allocation of housing is entirely down to local authorities. I have mentioned already some of the assistance we give in relation to points, some of the stuff we have done to encourage local authorities to consider carefully the needs of veterans. It reduced a lot of situations when it was based on needs. I did speak to the chief executive of the council concerned just to make sure that was happening, and from what I understand is the case, I am reassured that the council is taking it very seriously. We have a thing called Housing Hubs, Housing Options, which was developed in England first, which has helped us with homelessness. We had very much this hard target, which we still have in 2012, of treating everybody presenting as homeless as being in priority need. We have to achieve that target by the end of this year. It was set in 2003. We haven’t had the other side of it, which is before people become homeless, trying to deal with them and make sure they have the right solution for mortgage payments that become too much or whatever. So we have changed that and the same process of Housing Hubs or Housing Options would be presented to somebody coming to a council for housing in the case that has been mentioned. I think there are other things as well that we have done in relation to trying to make sure local authorities are as well placed as possible to make sure there is no disadvantage for veterans. Do you want to mention those, Alister?

Alister Murphy: One is the Scottish housing guide for ex-service personnel we can leave with you, and that is generally made available to them. But by and large, at the end of the day, it is a question of giving housing to those in greatest need. So there are groups of people who are afforded greater priority, and they are the homeless people, those threatened with homelessness, people living in unsatisfactory housing conditions, those who live in crowded housing and those with large families who live in poor housing. So within that overarching legal framework, veterans can access housing and will be given priority if they would otherwise be homeless.

There is also a working group coming together in respect of things like adaptations, because sometimes being unable to access housing is not the problem. It is the fact that the housing isn’t suitable for them, so there are issues around adaptations as well. A working group has been established. It is an independent working group. It is going to be led by a housing association chief executive and it is going to take on board landlords, users, carers, registered social landlords, local authorities, looking at what is being provided by way of adaptations, not just for the Armed Forces community or the veteran community but for everyone who needs housing adaptations, to see what housing adaptations can be funded, which ones are a priority, how they are going to be provided, who would provide them and who can then gain access to them. So it is more than just homelessness and not being able to find a house; it is the right house for the right person.

Q236 Chair: There is a point that has been made to us that a high percentage of rough sleepers are ex-members of the Armed Forces, but nobody is quite able to pinpoint the percentage. Are there shelters? I saw people out there just now who appear to be homeless. Do you have or provide, in cities like this, enough shelters for people who are rough sleepers, many of whom might be ex-members of the Armed Forces?

Keith Brown: Yes. There are quite a substantial number of not just shelters but options available to people who are sleeping rough, and there are quite a number, especially, in Edinburgh, which seems to attract as well people from other parts of the country and overseas who end up as rough sleepers. There are a substantial number of initiatives, many of which we help fund in Edinburgh to deal with that.

Q237 Chair: Would you be confident, Minister, that there are enough shelters somewhere in hostels, for instance, so that nobody should be sleeping rough if they didn’t want to?

Keith Brown: Well, I think that is something we always keep our eye on but we fund, as I say, several options for people. I think often the demand that comes is not always in terms of additional shelters or additional accommodation. It is the support that has to go along with that. I think we can always do more, but there are a substantial number of options available to people who are rough sleeping just now. You are right to say-there is often a statement made about the proportion of people, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow, who come from a service background, but we don’t have the evidence to back that up.

Q238 Geraint Davies: I was going to ask about what discretion local authorities have in Scotland to disregard income from war pensions and compensation schemes in calculating housing and council tax benefits and what the relationship is with adaptations for housing.

Keith Brown: To take the last point first, what we have said is that, in relation to adaptations for housing, the means test doesn’t apply in the case of veterans, so if somebody requires an adaptation, it wouldn’t be based on what they have coming in. Housing benefit rules are not set by us. They are set by the Westminster Government, and it is dealt with in that way. Council tax, it does have an impact in terms of a war pension. I am not certain of that. We can find that information and pass it back to the Committee.

Q239 Stuart Andrew: I wanted to go back to the work of the charities. We have heard a lot about how many veterans’ charities there are all over the country, and we were hearing this morning there are some 400 charities in Scotland alone. A lot of concern from some of the larger charities is that perhaps the lack of governance could present a problem in the future, certainly when you think about public confidence. Is any work being done here or is there any work by the charities themselves to try to have an umbrella organisation perhaps? I used to work for a charity sector and we worked for the children’s hospice movement and we had a similar problem. There were lots of organisations all trying to do the same thing but doing it not as effectively and, as a result, they set up a national organisation, which now is very effective. I just wondered if there was any work that perhaps you were encouraging them to do.

Keith Brown: They have made that point to us. The point that you just made is a concern for the charities and it tends to be a point expressed by pretty established charities, which we will know very well, and will know that both the governance and services they provide are audited and checked. They have made that point, as much of the work that will be done will be done by organisations independent of Government. OSCR, the charities’ regulator, would look at whether a charity is regulated in the right way, and obviously the Care Commission if they are providing certain services would do that as well. I understand the points you have made; and I think there is a real point to it that the public themselves can become a bit confused and bewildered by the range that is there, and some of them are very niche organisations as well.

I think we have to strike a balance between those long-established charities. We work very much with Poppyscotland, which is the only charity recognised by the Scottish Parliament. It is the official charity of the Scottish Parliament. It is the only charity that it supports directly in that way, but obviously we have a number of other charities-Erskine is another we work with regularly-and the co-ordination that you mention is done by Veterans Scotland. I mentioned before this is an organisation that is there and it draws together especially those longer established charities. We rely quite heavily on them, both to alert us to any issues that there might be that different Government agencies should be aware of but also to work jointly. So yes, we do have that. I don’t know whether you have that in the rest of the UK, but certainly in Scotland it has been a big boon for us to have the Veterans Scotland organisation.

Geoff Huggins: May I just offer something else, which is that a number of the charities would generally seek money from a relatively small number of large sources like Help for Heroes or the Big Lottery or Comic Relief, and those organisations will quite often liaise with us, or health boards or indeed others, about where things fit in. So there are some protections in terms of relations in the system as well.

Q240 Stuart Andrew: You said you work with a number of charities. Is that in policy development as well?

Keith Brown: Yes, we do. It will tend to be mediated through Veterans Scotland, but we also have an independent relationship with, for example, Poppyscotland, which has a specific housing charity. They have done a substantial merger with the British Legion as well, so we know the expertise they have had. They have had it for many years, and you could not develop a veterans policy properly without taking their views into account, so we do work with them. I have regular meetings with the chair and chief executive, for example, of Veterans Scotland and we work through some of these issues. The issue that you have raised was raised by them at our last meeting.

Q241 Stuart Andrew: So Veterans Scotland is a very important organisation in your eyes?

Keith Brown: It is, especially given the fact that we don’t have responsibility for the Armed Forces. It is a real source-like the MoD-of ready advice and assistance, so it is very useful to us. It would be hard to say we could do our job without them, to be honest.

Q242 Guto Bebb: Since we came up to visit Edinburgh on this Select Committee trip, we have heard a bit about the Scottish Veterans Fund, which has apparently distributed £400,000 since 2008. Could you explain how that was funded and also the process by which decisions are made about which projects are supported by the fund?

Keith Brown: As I mentioned before, I think 2008 was the first time the monies were awarded, and it was by my predecessor, a chap called Stewart Maxwell, who basically went and talked to veterans’ organisations-Alister was involved, and I was a back-bencher at the time-to find out some of their requirements and money was found from within existing budgets. No consequential money came for that, so it was money found within existing budgets. That £400,000 is a cumulative total over the years, although it is not the full amount we have given towards veterans.

What has happened is the officials within the Scottish Government talk to Veterans Scotland, as I mentioned, but other charities as well. They will now receive bids from charities to say, "We want to undertake this pilot project or provide this new service and are you willing to fund that?" As with probably every area of government, the bids that come in exceed the resources available but it is very well subscribed and it supports, for example, the Thistle Foundation, which is a charity that has not been involved specifically in military for its history. It was established for people just generally with special needs but it is now doing a substantial amount of work with the military. It is sometimes finding its feet with that, taking on projects that might require some funding to help that, so we fund that. Gardening Leave is another charity we have helped fund. We have funded, and are funding this year, conferences that are about veterans’ issues. So it is quite a wide range and they tend to be assessed by officials like Alister, in fact.

Alister Murphy: Yes. The process is that the bids are invited by Veterans Scotland on our behalf. We commission Veterans Scotland to administer the scheme. So they will invite the bids among the veterans’ community, and so they get bids made from all sorts of different organisations. The pillars of Veterans Scotland will determine who they are going to recommend to the Minister for approval and those they are going to recommend for rejection. They then come to us. We do an analysis as officials and then we put up a paper to the Minister for a decision to be taken, and it is after that point that the awards are taken. Where one of the pillars is involved in a particular bid, he or she will excuse themselves from that particular process and not take part, so that means there is absolute clarity and fairness and a level playing field for the consideration of any bids for recommendation by Veterans Scotland. Don’t let anyone be left in any doubt, there is no question of Veterans Scotland becoming judge and jury on who is going to get a bid passed. That is entirely in the gift of the Minister. I have a list of every award we have made, so I am happy to leave that.

Q243 Guto Bebb: Is there a regular funding round? Do you just invite people or is there is a specific date every year?

Alister Murphy: We asked Veterans Scotland if they would prefer a three-year funding cycle or a one-year funding cycle and they preferred the one-year funding cycle for the nature of the projects that we are trying to assist.

Q244 Geraint Davies: A slightly different question. We heard about a typical case this morning of a 46-year-old man who had been in the services, then lost his job and gone through a divorce and this sort of thing, and obviously people need support at different times in this cycle. I was wondering what you thought about the idea of universal screening in order to get early intervention, and also trying to track changes in circumstances like job losses so that support can be given where it is needed rather than relying on the client, if you like, to have to find out about the service and then come forward, then sometimes only being able to provide support when a lot more investment is needed by that time to remedy the problem.

Keith Brown: I think in a democratic society you have to rely on consent in relation to that, and universal screening might present some challenges, as well as practical challenges. I mentioned that we don’t have the responsibility for the Armed Forces, so we don’t track people joining up for the period of service and what needs they might demonstrate as they are going through their service and what they present with after their service. Also, I think your question implies that somebody might come out of the service in a fairly benign way at the time-they have a job, they have a house-and it can fall apart fairly quickly after that for reasons that might relate to their service career. So I think we are trying to push the idea of trying to have an idea of who the veterans are and where they are in order that we can better do the job, but we have to be careful in all of that, I think, not to inhibit people’s right just to get on with their lives. The vast majority of people who come out of the services crack on with their lives and seem to get on. I think underlying your question is this concern that people can slip through the net and we are very conscious of that and we are trying to see what we can do in order to help that situation. Universal screening? I don’t know where we would start just now because of the fact we don’t know; we don’t have that information.

I should say, just on the last point, that the MoD has to realise that we are trying to achieve the same things as they are and yet, instead of having positive assistance, we often get excluded. We have announcements coming out that affect services that we provide for veterans, of which we get no warning. We don’t get the consultation that we need in relation to that. There seems to be this block, "You’re not entitled", which is in marked contrast, I have to say, with the Armed Forces personnel, the serving Armed Forces personnel in Scotland. Alister mentioned Firm Base, which involves the Armed Forces personnel. They are very open and very willing to assist. On that point, which I made previously, I can’t imagine why it would upset the MoD if we go to Afghanistan and talk to people who are about to come out of the service and what their needs are. In the military, they call it standing to, being ready for anything, and the impression you get with the MoD is they are not ready. They are ready to put a block up there and I think if they just understand-it is true of the Welsh Assembly as well-that we are all trying to achieve the same things, then it could be more open.

Similarly, I think, we get very good collaboration with the Armed Forces. We don’t get so much with the MoD, I think with UK Ministers as well. There seems to be a bit of an insecurity about it when we start talking about these issues, but if we are all trying to achieve the same thing, just relaxing a bit so we can try to achieve something together would be a good idea. So the MoD should stand to and I think some of the Ministers should maybe become more proactive. I think I first applied to Liam Fox to go to Afghanistan, and it just got delayed and delayed and delayed and lost. What is the downside for anybody? I can’t see it, to be honest.

One last thing to say is I have heard it said that the MoD has said-and I am relying on others who have said this-that they can’t be responsible for all the problems that military personnel have-I don’t want to miscall this-because when they came into the military they would have had pre-existing issues, especially if they come from a fairly deprived background. To my mind, the MoD, or its equivalent, for centuries has drawn personnel from those communities, and it has to be responsible for taking on some of those issues as well. We are happy to help with that if we can get a more collaborative approach with them. Thank you very much.

Chair: Minister, I thank you very much indeed and just add that we are all in favour of the UK Government and devolved bodies speaking to each other. We have had the same frustrations you have had in that we have found it easier to talk to you than we have with some Welsh Assembly Ministers. Thank you very much indeed for coming along here and helping us today.

Prepared 8th February 2013