I AM PRIVILEGED to hold the post of Veterans Minister in the Scottish Government and I was absolutely delighted, both with that hat on and as local MSP, to have taken part in a very special medal presentation in Sauchie recently.

Paul Houston served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in both Northern Ireland and the Gulf but, unfortunately, his campaign medals were amongst many of his possessions stolen when his house was burgled ten years ago and, despite someone being arrested and convicted of the burglary, the medals were never recovered.

The MoD refused to pay for replacements and the Scottish Armed Services Advice Project, along with volunteers at the Wee County Veterans Hub took up Paul’s case.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government was able to step in and was proud to announce back in November a new scheme during a Parliamentary debate on Remembrance and support for the Veterans and Armed Forces Community. Veterans' resident in Scotland will now be able to claim for the cost of replacements when medals have been lost or stolen through no fault of their own.

Many of our veterans still bear the physical and mental scars from conflicts and their medals are an important symbol of their courageous service. This scheme is part of a wide range of support provided to show our appreciation and ongoing support for veterans and their families.

I want to take time to pay tribute to the young people of Clackmannanshire and all those involved in working with them for ensuring that 96.4% of all school leavers, according to the most recent figures to be published, have secured positive destinations – that is further education or employment - significantly ahead of the already impressive national average of 95.7%

The statistics also show a further reduction in the overall attainment gap across Scotland, with the gap between school leavers from the most and least deprived areas progressing after school narrowing to a record low of 4.4 percentage points.

These record-breaking figures show that the Scottish Government’s education recovery plan is working and young people in Clackmannanshire are continuing to succeed despite the unprecedented challenges of recent years.

In 2019, the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published ‘Electric prepayment meter statistics’. This one-off publication showed that 4035 households in Clackmannanshire had pre-payment meters installed and as a result pay more for their energy. I therefore welcome the news that, the UK Government will hopefully end the premium those on prepayment meters currently pay.

The failure of the UK Government to address this glaring inequality for so many years has meant many of our most vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, older people and people with terminal illnesses to suffer in the cold and dark this winter as they face a perfect storm of ever-rising energy costs and inflationary pressures. As Westminster continues to fail vulnerable households in Scotland, it becomes clearer by the day that only with the full powers of independence can we properly support families through difficult times.

In the meantime, help and advice is available to those on pre-payment meters, and others struggling with energy costs from Clackmannanshire Citizens Advice Bureau and the Home Energy Advice Team at Clackmannanshire Council.