Reporting on social security – behind the scenes

Caroline_twitter_400pxBy Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland

Around 1.4m of the most vulnerable people in Scotland will be affected by Parliament’s major new social security powers – the main focus of my recent report on the implementation of the Scotland Acts.

A huge amount of work is facing the Scottish Government as they prepare to take responsibility for benefits to carers and disabled people, some ill-health related benefits, parts of the Social Fund, and discretionary housing payments.

Given the challenges, my report aims to take stock of progress so far and make recommendations for the crucial next stage of implementation.

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I’ll soon be giving evidence on my findings to two Parliamentary committees – Public Audit and Social Security. And, as always, we’ve worked hard to make sure the report is up-to-date, accurate and evidence-based.

My audit team work closely with the civil servants responsible for social security to understand all the work that’s underway; we interview people, read reports and other documents, and carefully examine the numbers to make sure we’ve got the picture right.

Our aim is to make sure that Parliamentary committees can rely on our work to give them the information they need to scrutinise the Government, without getting bogged down in disagreements about the facts.

To that end, there’s a formal process for agreeing the factual accuracy of all our reports with the Government. We listen carefully to their views and we’re always open to new evidence, but it’s vitally important to Parliament that our conclusions are independent and are fully supported by evidence.

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Our overall conclusion this time is that the Government has made good early progress, but there’s much more to be done.

Getting the right people with the right skills in place, establishing a new social security agency, and building the necessary IT systems are all essential if the first wave of devolved benefits is going to be delivered to the people who rely on them by summer 2019. And it will be challenging.

In particular, we know that people with the right skills are in short supply, and I’ve recommended that the Government needs to do more detailed workforce planning if it’s going to achieve its ambitious timescales.

What’s clear is that the rest of 2018 will be absolutely critical for success.

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