Alun Davies, Cabinet Secretary for Local Government & Public Services
This time of the year always serves as a poignant reminder of those who fought bravely in conflicts to preserve our way of life.
This year marks the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the key battles of the First World War which cost the lives of 70,000 British soldiers; many from Wales, including the poet Hedd Wyn.
It is also the centenary of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps; when for the first time women were enrolled in the Armed Forces, a tradition that continues today.
Those who courageously gave their lives to protect the freedom we have today will never be forgotten.
Next year it will also be one hundred years since the foundation of the RAF, as a service in its own right. Wales can take pride in the key role played by a Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, in the establishment of the RAF. A variety of events will take place across Wales to celebrate this significant milestone.
The Senedd was fortunate to have the iconic Weeping Window of poppies on display recently. The Senedd is a focal point in Welsh culture and it is only fitting that we mark the sacrifice of so many Welshmen during the First World War.
The Welsh Government’s Cymru’n Cofio - Wales Remembers programme will continue to mark significant First World War events.
The Welsh Government is proud to support Armed Forces Day events in Wales. Events such as these give the people of Wales the opportunity to show their appreciation and gratitude to those currently serving, and to our ex-Serving personnel.
Next year will see the Tenth National Armed Forces Day. Conwy has been chosen as the host. It will be an unforgettable opportunity to celebrate our Armed Forces.
Through our Programme for Government, Taking Wales Forward, Welsh Government remains fully committed to providing ongoing support and services for our Armed Forces community.
The Armed Forces agenda has progressed since the last statement.
Veterans NHS Wales is going from strength to strength; with 2900 referrals since its establishment in 2010. The service is now leading the way in recruiting Veterans into research trials to help remedy mental health problems. Making use of talking therapies and virtual reality techniques the assessment helps veterans deal with personal trauma caused by their Service experience. It is also working in partnership with Change Step helping veterans access crucial health treatment and support.
Welsh Government is committed to expanding the delivery of psychological therapies. Since 2016 we have provided £3million to progress the service. This includes provision for veterans.
The fast track pathway for secondary and specialist care continues to thrive. Feedback from the Ministry of Defence is positive. In 2016-17 the Welsh Health Specialised Services Commission spent £71k to support the pathway.
Securing employment can be a problem for some veterans following transition into community life. The Recognition of Prior Learning scheme helps those veterans who choose to gain Higher Education credits to enhance their future employment opportunities. The scheme which is a collaborative venture between the University of South Wales, 160 Brigade and Cwm Taf Community Covenant Panel recognises the value of the knowledge, skills and experience gained during military service.
Recognising the extra support some veterans may require in securing employment Welsh Government is working with its key partners to develop an Employment Pathway. Aiming to clarify employment choices and the support available the Pathway will provide options for those seeking employment.
Some veterans will struggle to secure housing. To complement the Housing Referral Pathway advice cards and leaflets for ex-Serving personnel sleeping rough have been developed. The inclusion of the contact details for the Veterans Gateway provides an important point in accessing the wide range of the services available.
Good progress has been made in Wrexham. Through its veterans Self Build project, veterans acquire valuable construction skills and are offered a place to live in one of the houses they have built. Having their own home is vital in securing employment.
Ex-Serving personnel within the criminal justice system should not be overlooked and deterred from receiving support just because they’ve taken a wrong turning. The SToMP (Supporting Transition of Military Personnel) project ensures those in custody receive specialist support both during sentence and on release.
A similar model of support is available in the Shaun Stocker wing at HMP Berwyn. With its rehabilitative approach, the veterans are encouraged to improve their education and taught valuable life skills to help them adjust to civilian life.
A number of the military leave the service prematurely. The reasons aren’t well understood. The Armed Forces Expert Group is looking in more detail at the links between Early Service Leavers and Adverse Childhood Experiences. Progress on this important piece of work will be shared over time.
The Covenant Funds provide an opportunity to build on the services we deliver for the Armed Forces community. Local Authorities have been very successful in a bid for Covenant funding. The appointment of Armed Forces Liaison Officers provides a window of opportunity for Wales to ensure a consistent approach to the delivery of the Covenant.
The newly established UK Ministerial Covenant and Veterans Board will influence the future agenda of delivery of the Covenant in Wales and set the direction of future work for the Armed Forces Expert group.
Together we must build on progress made so far. There is more to do, and Welsh Government is committed to playing a full part in that. In challenging times like these where budgets are under continuous pressure, it is important to move forward collaboratively to ensure a difference is made for this community.