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02.05.19

Scottish Government faces ‘significant challenge’ in delivering new devolved welfare benefits, says auditor

The government has “no clear picture” of what is needed to deliver further devolved welfare benefits in Scotland and faces a “significant challenge” in the next stage of the devolution of powers, the national spending watchdog was warned.

A new report from Audit Scotland said that whilst the Scottish Government has done well in delivering its first set of benefits devolved from the UK Government, the increasing complexity of the programme means the “real challenge is still to come.”

Carers and new parents “successfully” received payments in 2018 after the country’s new benefits agency, Social Security Scotland, was set up, but the report said bringing in early benefits was “harder than expected.”

The government is preparing to take over control of 11 benefits from the UK Government, with almost £90m already being spent on delivering the new benefits system – but it is unclear what the overall cost will be.

Figures from Audit Scotland show that 77,000 people received a total of £33m through the carer’s allowance supplement, and £2.7m to people receiving best start grants.

The report said Social Security Scotland had encountered difficulties in employing skilled staff, and that the vacancy rate was 30%, which was leading to an overreliance on agency staff and pushing up costs.

It said constant short-term pressures and a high pace of work has left civil servants with little time to pause and refocus, “posing a risk to the overall delivery of future benefits.”

The auditor general for Scotland stated that the government “does not yet have a clear picture of what will be needed to make the next, much more complex, set of benefit payments.”

Caroline Gardner, the national auditor general, commented: “The government has done well to date but has had to work flat out to reach this point, leaving little time to draw breath and plan for the challenges ahead.

“The social security team is doing the right things to address that issue, but it hasn't yet got a clear understanding of what's needed to deliver the more complex benefits to come, or how much it will cost.

“Many decisions about future benefits are still to be made and it's critical that detailed plans are now put in place.”

The report added that the complexity and speed of change in the social security system had been a “significant challenge.”

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