Written evidence submitted by the Scottish Veterans Commissioner to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill
Thank you very much for inviting me to provide written evidence for the Select Committee as it considers the Armed Forces Bill 2019-21. I have considered the questions you have asked and offer the following thoughts. I have considered only the Armed Forces Covenant provisions of the Bill as relevant to my role and remit as the independent Scottish Veterans Commissioner.
First of all, I am not entirely clear what the purpose is of further incorporating the Armed Forces Covenant into law and I have seen little by the way of explanation of the policy intentions in the public domain. That it should be considered critical to apply a law on how only certain public bodies are to have a “duty to have due regard” to the Armed Forces Covenant seems to indicate that we have failed as a country.
Taking this action would suggest that the policymakers somehow consider that 10 years after the Covenant was first enshrined in law, the nation does not accept it has the sort of moral obligation towards the military it was founded on and so must now be told what to do. Does not imposing a new law on only specified public bodies, which may be vague and open to interpretation, risk further alienating the population from the military? It would seem more appropriate to ensure that our population is better informed and educated about the military and its part in the matrix of security needed to continue to have a safe and open society.
In over two years as the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, the one factor that sticks out above all is the interface in responsibilities between the UK Government and the Scottish Government and how much more can be achieved to the benefit of our veterans when they work together and in meaningful partnership with delivery bodies. Much of the responsibility of preparing Servicemen and women to leave the Armed Forces rests with the UK Government. However, the Scottish Government is very much responsible for receiving the Service person who chooses to settle in
Scotland after they leave – especially in the critical devolved public service areas of health and social care, mental health, education, housing and employability and skills development. Much has been achieved in recent years, as I’ve reported regularly in my progress reports but that has been achieved through collaborative working across administrations and public and third sector bodies who are ‘bought-in to’ improving outcomes for veterans. No legal duty has been necessary, and I consider there is more to be gained from the two Governments and their delivery partners working more closely in ensuring that every service leaver who chooses to live in Scotland is better prepared and best served, wherever they are leaving from in the UK, or around the world.
With the ever-decreasing size of our Armed Forces, it is inevitable that the locations of our units will decrease across the UK. It is a matter of economics and good management of resources. Inevitably, these locations are likely to be in England (especially for the Army). This in turn will challenge the Armed Forces in their quest to remain connected with the populations across the UK, especially if further MoD policies cause Service people to settle into local communities near to their places of work. There is a significant danger that the Army in particular will become an even more remote organisation to those living in Scotland and thus potentially cut off a significant pool of potential employees.
I hope this is helpful to the Committee’s considerations.
19th March 2021
Written evidence submitted to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill