Councillors from Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) Gold Award holder Aberdeenshire Council met to discuss the work elected members and officers undertake to support the Armed Forces.
The Council signed the Armed Forces Covenant in 2017 and was awarded the Gold Award in 2019 for its outstanding commitment to the Armed Forces community.
The Council is also part of Highland RFCA’s Gold Network – a group of the 39 Gold Award holders in the Highlands and Islands whose aim is to advocate for defence people, while sharing best practice and ideas, and to encourage and mentor Bronze and Silver employers to gain Gold status.
In addition, Glenda Gray (Aberdeenshire Council HR Manager) is the Vice Chair of Highland RFCA’s Northern Area Committee.
During the annual discussion around the Council’s ongoing commitment to supporting the Armed Forces community, councillors also welcomed a raft of new actions which will be taken forward in 2024 including the Freedom of Aberdeenshire to The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
In November last year, the Covenant Duty placed a legal obligation on Aberdeenshire Council to ‘have due regard’ in terms of development and delivery of Education, Housing and Health services in respect of the Armed Forces community.
Many elected members have connections with the Armed Forces as Veterans, and spouses or parents of serving personnel, with Depute Provost Councillor Ron McKail taking the lead role of Armed Forces & Veterans Champion. There are a number of local authority employees who are Reservists.
Councillors heard that the Council’s Education & Children’s Services has worked proactively with the Association of Directors of Education Scotland and participated in its Armed Forces Working Group, most recently assisting in the development of ‘ADES Advice to Local Authority Lead Officers for Armed Forces Children, Young People & Families in Scottish Schools, and Early Learning & Child Care Settings’.
In particular, Aberdeenshire’s looked after children, and other children and young people are actively encouraged to participate in cadets as it can build confidence, provide experience of team building as well as presenting opportunities to gain recognised qualifications.
At the time of the review of the Council’s Housing Allocations Policy, input was made on behalf of the Veterans Aberdeenshire Group during the consultation, and it was noted that Armed Forces personnel transitioning out of the Service is specifically addressed.
Employment policies and procedures cover paid special leave for the mandatory Armed Forces training to be undertaken by Reservists each year, and career breaks support deployments to work alongside Regular serving personnel. Guaranteed interviews are also given to Armed Forces leavers where they meet the essential criteria for the job role.
Aberdeenshire Council provides regular officer support for the Veterans Aberdeenshire Group which brings together organisations, charities and individuals who are Veterans or have an interest in supporting them.
The Council is proud to support Armed Forces Week and hosts an annual event with a parade of Veterans culminating in the raising of the Armed Forces Flag at Woodhill House in Aberdeen.
Looking ahead to 2024, councillors were advised that there are a number of key areas which will be taken forward in this next year – most notably the granting of the Freedom of Aberdeenshire to The Royal Regiment of Scotland on the weekend of May 11-12. This will involve major community events across the region and will celebrate the role of the Armed Forces in Aberdeenshire communities.
Other activities will include the Ministry of Defence Gold Award revalidation process which will enable the Council to retain its Gold Award, together with an Advocacy Event at Woodhill House to bring organisations connected with the Council and others together to encourage them to sign the Armed Forces Covenant and to assist with progress through the Employer Recognition Scheme.
The Council will also host a Veterans Housing Scotland Event on February 6 which will bring Veterans together at Woodhill House to discuss housing matters. The authority will also be offering work placements of up to 12 weeks to Armed Forces leavers to help with transition to civilian work life.
Welcoming the Council’s dedication to supporting the Armed Forces community, Depute Provost and Armed Forces Champion Councillor Ron McKail said: “There is strong cross-party support in our Council which demonstrates how we all work together for the benefit of our communities, in this case, the military community.
“This cross-party support is also demonstrated for our Veterans by how many of our elected members attend the Veterans Aberdeenshire meetings with a number of councillors being Veterans themselves.
“It is also important to recognise the work undertaken by Council officers in respect of the Armed Forces. Our Chief Executive Jim Savege leads from the front on this work, connecting with and participating in events with senior military personnel and other employers. He is supported by a number of officers, all of whom work to ensure a strong partnership between Aberdeenshire Council and the military community.
“The Council’s workforce includes Veterans, spouses and partners of serving personnel and Reservists, all of whom contribute valuable skills to the delivery of our services to the residents of Aberdeenshire.”