Publication - Minutes

Scottish Commission on Social Security minutes: August 2020

Published: 9 Nov 2020
Date of meeting: 11 Aug 2020
Date of next meeting: 29 Sep 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the SCoSS on 11 and 12 August 2020.

Published:
9 Nov 2020
Scottish Commission on Social Security minutes: August 2020

Attendees and apologies

Present:

  • Dr Sally Witcher (Chair)
  • Sharon McIntyre (Member)
  • Judith Paterson (Member)
  • Dr Mark Simpson (Member)

Apologies:

  • none

In attendance:

  • Nicole Fraser - SCoSS Administrative Officer
  • Terry Shevlin - SCoSS Lead Secretary
  • In Attendance for agenda items 1 to 3
  • Michael Oliphant – Audit director, Audit Scotland

In attendance for agenda item 2:

  • Rebecca Haque – Cross Cutting Policy Team Leader, Scottish Government
  • Iain Hunter – Cross Cutting Policy Officer, Residency and EU Exit, Scottish Government
  • Jane Sterry - Carer Benefits Policy, Advisor, Scottish Government

Items and actions

Welcome and apologies

The Chair welcomed Michael Oliphant to the meeting. Michael noted that he was attending as an observer, in his capacity as engagement lead on the SCoSS audit. He said that Audit Scotland had to judge the effectiveness of boards’ governance arrangements and that it was a routine part of auditors’ work to observe board meetings to understand business process and how risks are dealt with. He noted his desire to bring the SCoSS audit plan to a future board meeting.

Action: 

  • Secretariat to schedule consideration of the SCoSS audit plan for a future board meeting

Minutes of the previous meeting

The minutes of the June board meeting were agreed.

Action: 

  • Secretariat to publish the June minutes on the SCoSS webpage

Carers Allowance Supplement (Qualifying Persons) and Young Carer Grant Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2020

The Chair invited Scottish Government officials to provide a briefing on the likely content of possible draft regulations that may be referred to SCoSS. Officials then answered members’ questions.

The Chair requested that officials: provide written briefings on particular topics that may be relevant to SCoSS’s scrutiny of the draft regulations; confirm whether SCoSS would be able to append the written briefings to its scrutiny report; and, provide any further information that may be relevant to SCoSS’s scrutiny, including detailed timings, in advance of the draft regulations formally being referred to the Commission.

The Chair noted that there would likely be a very restricted timetable for SCoSS to consider and report on the draft regulations, and committed to sending to officials any further questions that SCoSS members may have on their briefing.

Members expressed a preference for undertaking at least a limited consultation on the draft regulations but noted that timelines would likely make this challenging.

After officials left, members agreed that Mark would be the lead drafter for the Commission’s report on the draft regulations, with Sharon providing back up support.

Action:

  • Secretariat to request from officials further information that would inform SCoSS’s scrutiny of the possible draft regulations, and to forward any further questions from members on the briefing provided

Draft interim action plan

Members considered a draft interim action plan prepared by the Secretariat that will describe SCoSS’s aims, vision and values, and its statutory roles. Members had previously agreed to produce such a document in light of delays to the publication of SCoSS’s Business Plan.

Members provided initial feedback on the draft plan and agreed to provide further comments by correspondence.

Action:

  • members to provide comments on the draft interim action plan to the Secretariat. Secretariat to organise for the final plan to be published as soon as possible after its final wording is agreed by the Chair

Risk register

Members considered a ‘risk register dashboard’ prepared by the Chair, showing risks that were high level, new or that had changed since the full risk register was last considered by the Board.

Members considered the risk that the Scottish Government would likely not be able to appoint a fifth member to the SCoSS board as quickly as members would like, given delays caused by COVID. The Chair agreed to raise this issue with the deputy director of social security, while members also considered whether additional expertise and assistance could be made available to SCoSS through the creation of sub-committees.

Members agreed that it would be helpful to append the entire risk register to future papers where the risk register dashboard was being considered, as this would provide useful context. There was a discussion about how best the entire risk register could be strategically reviewed and relevant actions and mitigations taken to ensure that the number of risks was as low as possible.

In the course of the discussion, the Chair noted the difficulty of chairing virtual board meetings by Skype audio and asked whether better alternatives could be made available by the Scottish Government.

Actions:

  • Chair to discuss with the deputy director of social security whether the process for appointing a fifth SCoSS board member could be expedited
  • members to submit views by correspondence on whether and how SCoSS could create sub-committees in order to access outside expertise
  • Chair to consider how future reviews of the SCoSS risk register could be undertaken in a more strategic manner
  • Secretariat to ask the Scottish Government whether more effective platforms than Skype could be used for future board meetings

Financial reporting paper

The Secretariat introduced a paper inviting the Board to agree the type and frequency of financial information it would require in order to discharge its financial responsibilities. Members discussed the paper in conjunction with draft desk instructions prepared by the Scottish Government that were designed to complement relevant financial provisions in the SCoSS Framework Document.

Members noted that they had previously agreed to postpone a discussion on financial information until the Framework Document had provided clarity on responsibilities for managing SCoSS’s budget. Having now agreed this document, and having considered the draft desk instructions, members agreed that financial information for the Board should take account of SCoSS’s statutory responsibilities and be proportionate to SCoSS’s comparatively limited budget. The regular budgetary discussions between the Secretariat, accountable officer and Scottish Government finance officials were also noted as an effective control.

Members agreed that the Secretariat should provide the Board, on a quarterly basis, with a paper containing SCoSS’s expenditure to date and projected for the current financial year, and comparison of spend against the budget. Any exceptions should be reported to the Board as soon as necessary.

Members agreed that the Chair should provide feedback to the Scottish Government on the draft desk instruction, particularly the need for it to clarify roles and responsibilities around SCoSS’s audit.

Actions:

  • Secretariat to provide the Board with requested financial information on a quarterly basis
  • Chair to provide feedback to the Scottish Government on draft desk instructions relating to budgetary responsibilities

SCoSS Board Meeting
Date: 12 August 2020
Time: 13:00 – 16:00
Venue: by teleconference

Present:

  • Dr Sally Witcher (Chair)
  • Sharon McIntyre (Member)
  • Judith Paterson (Member)
  • Dr Mark Simpson (Member)

Apologies:

  • none

In attendance:

  • Nicole Fraser - SCoSS Administrative Officer;
  • Terry Shevlin - SCoSS Lead Secretary.

Declarations of interest:

  • none

Rolling actions record

The Secretariat provided updates on some actions within the rolling actions record, including that Scottish Government officials would welcome any suggestions from SCoSS relating to the drafting of the section ‘A better future’ in the Scottish Government’s annual social security report. Members noted that this would be an important section of the report, whilst being mindful that SCoSS must remain independent from any Scottish Government report. Members agreed that it would be useful to understand the timelines for the publication of the report before deciding on whether SCoSS could undertake any action.

Action:

  • Secretariat to ask Scottish Government when it intends to publish its annual social security report

Work plan

Members noted SCoSS’s work plan.

Action:

  • Secretariat to request clarification from Scottish Government officials on future draft regulations that may be referred to SCoSS

Child Winter Heating Assistance report

The Board assessed the effectiveness of the approach to agreeing its scrutiny report on draft Child Winter Heating Assistance regulations, in line with SCoSS’s commitment to ensuring continuous improvement in its work.

Members agreed the importance of adhering to agreed deadlines and version control protocols when producing reports. Members also agreed, in principle, to aim to produce shorter scrutiny reports but noted that this could be difficult in practice given the importance of making evidence-based recommendations. It was agreed that the current online tool used by SCoSS to produce reports does not allow for full collaboration between members.

Action:

  • members to review the draft Child Winter Heating Assistance regulations scrutiny report to consider whether future SCoSS reports could be made more concise.
  • members to ensure that any technical points to be covered in future scrutiny reports are fully discussed in advance with the lead report drafter.
  • Secretariat to ask Scottish Government IT officials whether online tools are available that allow members to collaborate more effectively when producing reports.

The Board discussed the forthcoming evidence session with the Social Security Committee on the scrutiny report. It was agreed that Mark and Judith should attend on behalf of SCoSS and that they will seek input from other members in preparing for the meeting.

Action

  • Secretariat to inform Social Security Committee that Mark and Judith will attend the evidence session on SCoSS’s draft Child Winter Heating Assistance regulations scrutiny report
  • Secretariat to draft an opening statement for the Committee session for members’ consideration

Social Security Committee business meeting

Members noted that the Chair would take part in an informal business planning discussion with the Social Security Committee on 13 August, and had provided a brief written note in advance.

Draft protocol with the Scottish Government

The Board considered a further version of a proposed Protocol with the Scottish Government, describing the information that SCoSS and the Scottish Government require from each other in order for SCoSS to scrutinise draft regulations effectively. Subject to minor amendments being made, the Board agreed the content of the Protocol and to forward a final draft to the Scottish Government for agreement.

Action:

  • Secretariat to forward a final draft version of the SCoSS- Scottish Government Protocol to the Scottish Government for consideration and agreement.

FOI MOU

The Board considered a revised draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Scottish Government on Freedom of Information and on Information Sharing. Subject to minor amendments being made, the Board agreed the content of the MoU and to forward a final draft to the Scottish Government for agreement.

Action:

  • Secretariat to forward a final draft version of a Memorandum of Understanding on Freedom of Information and Information Sharing to the Scottish Government for agreement
  • Secretariat to organise for training to be provided to Mark and Sharon on their roles relating to freedom of information requests

DACBEAG written agreement

The Board considered a draft version of a proposed written agreement between SCoSS and the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group (DACBEAG). Members noted that DACBEAG’S work could potentially inform SCoSS’s scrutiny, and that it would be important for both organisations to communicate with each other to consider where it would be possible to add value whilst maintaining appropriate organisational boundaries.

The Board agreed the content of the written agreement and to forward a final draft to DACBEAG for its consideration. Members also agreed to forward a final copy of the written agreement to the Scottish Government, along with a covering letter explaining how it would add value.

Judith agreed to be SCoSS’s lead member in developing relationships with DACBEAG.

Action:

  • Secretariat to forward a draft written agreement between SCoSS and the Disability and Carers Benefits Expert Advisory Group (DACBEAG) to DACBEAG for consideration, and to forward the final agreed version to the Scottish Government

SSAC written agreement

The Board considered a draft version of a proposed written agreement between SCoSS and the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), setting out how both organisations would work together to add value to their respective scrutiny functions.

Subject to minor agreements, the Board agreed the content of the written agreement and to forward a final draft to SSAC for its consideration.

Action:

  • Secretariat to forward a draft written agreement between SCoSS and the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) to SSAC for consideration

Continuous improvement

The Board considered a revised paper by the Secretariat on how SCoSS could assess its overall performance, and related issues. Members considered various ongoing ways in which the Board could monitor and seek to improve its performance, for example, by seeking more systematic feedback from stakeholders and potentially by holding an annual away day to focus on performance as a team. For the current year, it was agreed that members would undertake a self-assessment exercise to determine SCoSS’s overall performance, rather than seeking external evaluation at a time when Audit Scotland is conducting SCoSS’s audit.

Action:

  • Secretariat to draft a standard feedback form for attendees of SCoSS board meetings, and a self-assessment exercise that members could use to assess SCoSS’s overall performance

Members then considered a series of discussion points on improving performance, relating to learning and development, briefings, working practices and SCoSS’s Standing Orders. The Chair proposed that these topics should be addressed in a more systematic and strategic manner, using a skills audit for members as a starting point. This could result in the creation of a development and training template that would incorporate briefings and development sessions, whether for all or individual members. The template should also allow for a more structured discussion of SCoSS’s working practices and its Standing Orders.

Action:

Secretariat to prepare a development and training template, that will allow for more structured consideration of briefings, working practices and Standing Orders. Members to contribute their views by correspondence in advance of more detailed discussion at a future board meeting.

Members also discussed the need to create an online library of resources that could be accessed by all members in order to inform the drafting of future scrutiny reports and other work. Members agreed in principle that the Board should publish agendas for board meetings but that they would wish to do so in a way that both met SCoSS’s Freedom of Information obligations and allowed for the free and frank exchange of views on sensitive issues.

Action:

Secretariat to create an online space for members to share resources that may inform SCoSS’s work, and to provide options to the Board on publishing agendas for future board meetings.

Any other business

Secretariat noted that members would have to agree soon on board meeting dates for 2021.

Action:

  • Secretariat to issue, for members’ agreement, possible dates for SCoSS board meeting in 2021

Date of the next board meeting: 29-30 September 2020.