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by Tom Freeman
02 May 2019
Next wave of devolved benefits 'more complex and costly' warns Audit Scotland

Disabled parking bay - Steve P

Next wave of devolved benefits 'more complex and costly' warns Audit Scotland

Devolved benefits due to be rolled out by the Scottish Government will be more complex than the work carried out by Social Security Scotland so far and the cost is yet unknown, public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has warned.

The new agency, based in Dundee, may not yet have enough staff or expertise to deliver the 11 new benefits, the report said.

So far £90m has been spent on delivering the new benefits system, and Audit Scotland said the first two benefits, the carer's allowance supplement and best start grants, had been delivered well.

However the real challenges lie ahead in delivering the next 11 devolved benefits - which include new claims for disability assistance - it added.

The report said pressures and a high pace of work has left civil servants little time to pause and refocus their activity, posing risks to the overall delivery of future benefits.

Meanwhile, Social Security Scotland has found it difficult to attract adequately skilled staff, both in project management and in IT, with a vacancy rate sitting at 30 per cent.

Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, said: "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."

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the Scottish Government doesn't underestimate the challenges ahead.

“Our aim from the start has been to get social security right for Scotland - in a way that treats people with dignity and respect and protects people and payments," she said.

“In just a year and in the face of considerable complexity, this report recognises we have done well to launch a new benefits service for Scotland. It also highlights the challenge we face as we scale up to deliver the next round of payments."

She added: "While we recognise there is much more to do - our track record shows we can meet the challenge ahead.”

Labour Social Security spokesperson Mark Griffin said: “This damning report means that vulnerable people in Scotland will continue to suffer at the hands of the Tories while they wait for a devolved system that was meant to bring dignity and respect.

“The SNP have already chosen to leave Scotland’s social security powers at the whims of a Tory Government, with some disabled people having to wait up to 2024 for their payments to transfer."

Scottish Conservative shadow social security secretary Michelle Ballantyne said: “The SNP has spent years complaining about the UK Government’s approach to benefits, but now the nationalists have the power, they’re finding out just how difficult it is to create a fair and sustainable welfare system.

She added: “If the nationalists can’t even sort out how to administer some benefits, how on earth do they propose to run an independent country?”

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