Scottish Commission on Social Security minutes: June 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the SCoSS on 16-17 June 2020.

SCoSS Board Meeting
Date: 16 June 2020
Time: 13:00 – 16:15
Venue: by Skype 

1. Welcome and apologies, declarations of interest


  • Dr Sally Witcher (Chair);
  • Sharon McIntyre (Member) (from agenda item 2);
  • Judith Paterson (Member);
  • Dr Mark Simpson (Member).



In Attendance:

  • Nicole Fraser - SCoSS Administrative Officer;
  • Fiona Lodge - SCoSS Deputy Secretary (minutes);
  • Terry Shevlin - SCoSS Lead Secretary.

In Attendance for agenda item 4:

  • Cheryl Bailey – Scottish Government, Principal Research Officer;
  • Chris Boyland – Social Security Scotland, Organisational Strategy,      Operational Policy and Corporate Assurance;
  • Simon Coote – Scottish Government, Legislation and        Operational Policy Unit Head;
  • Carole Edwards – Scottish Government, Principal Research Officer;
  • Marion Logan – Social Security Scotland, Business Manager;
  • Gillian Paton – Social Security Scotland, Organisational Strategy Manager;
  • Vikki Reilly – Scottish Government, Programme, Cross Cutting Policy Manager.

Declarations of interest:

The Chair noted that Inclusion Scotland had made a written submission to SCoSS on the draft Winter Heating Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) regulations 2020 but that she had had no involvement in developing the submission and did not see it until it was received by SCoSS.

Judith Paterson noted that the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland had also made a written submission to SCoSS on the draft Winter Heating Assistance regulations and that she similarly had not contributed to the submission.

2. Minutes of the previous meeting 

The minutes were agreed, subject to minor amendments, and would be published on SCoSS’s webpage.

3. Draft Winter Heating Assistance for Children and Young People (Scotland) regulations 2020

Members scrutinised the Scottish Government’s Winter Heating Assistance draft regulations in order to determine the issues that should be covered in SCoSS’s scrutiny report.

Members compiled a list of questions for Scottish Government officials on the draft regulations; identified a number of issues to include in the scrutiny report; and, agreed a timetable for producing the report by 14 July.

The Board recorded its thanks to those who had provided written submissions on the draft regulations and those who had provided comments via Twitter.  The Board agreed that, where submissions are requested via Twitter, any relevant Twitter comments should be included in board meeting papers.

Action – Secretariat to forward to Scottish Government officials Members’ questions on the draft Winter Heating Assistance regulations and to request a response by 23 June. 

Action – Where stakeholders provide written submissions to SCoSS via Twitter, Secretariat to include any relevant Twitter comments in board meeting papers.

4.     Our Charter/ Charter Measurement Framework

The Chair invited officials to provide a series of updates on issues arising from recent correspondence between SCoSS, the Cabinet Secretary and the chief executive of Social Security Scotland. The letters concerned potential short-term roles for SCoSS in light of COVID-19, and also asked about action the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland would take to ensure that Charter commitments, social security principles and human rights obligations continued to be met.

Officials noted delays in issuing a Social Security Scotland all-client survey because of COVID-19. Members provided initial comments on some of the draft survey questions and officials confirmed that they would welcome further feedback by correspondence. Given the timescale for issuing the survey, any further feedback will likely need to be put towards future iterations of the survey. Officials would be happy to provide further updates to SCoSS when results become available.

Officials also discussed the drafting of the Scottish Government’s annual report on the social security system, focusing on how the ‘A better future’ section of the social security charter (‘Our Charter’) would be reflected. Members noted previous discussions on this issue at the SCoSS Board and asked how the section would be developed. Officials said that SCoSS’s input would likely be very welcome, but that they would firstly have to confirm that with colleagues.

Members and officials discussed whether Social Security Scotland may be able to inform SCoSS’s scrutiny of certain draft regulations, by providing insights based on their operational experiences, given that SCoSS’s scrutiny framework covers delivery issues and our reports routinely cover delivery-related matters. Officials noted some difficulties in doing so, as Social Security Scotland is not a policy-making organisation, but expressed a general willingness to provide data that could inform SCoSS’s scrutiny.

Action – SCoSS Members will provide feedback to officials on the questions in Social Security Scotland’s all-client survey and, potentially, on the Scottish Government’s approach to reporting on the ‘A better future’ section of the Social Security Charter, subject to confirmation from officials.

Action – Members to consider the most appropriate way of seeking information from Social Security Scotland that could inform SCoSS’s scrutiny of future draft regulations.

SCoSS Board Meeting
Date: 17 June 2020 
Time: 10:00 – 13:15
Venue: by Skype 


  • Dr Sally Witcher (Chair);
  • Sharon McIntyre (Member) (absent for agenda item 6);

          Judith Paterson (Member);

          Dr Mark Simpson (Member).


  • None.

In Attendance:

  • Nicole Fraser - SCoSS Administrative Officer;
  • Fiona Lodge - SCoSS Deputy Secretary (minutes);
  • Terry Shevlin - SCoSS Lead Secretary.

In Attendance for agenda item 5:

  • Colin Armstrong – Scottish Government, Sponsorship and DeliveryManager    

In Attendance for agenda item 6:

  • Marta Kuzma – Audit Scotland, Audit Manager;
  • Tarryn Wilson-Jones – Audit Scotland, Audit Manager.

5.     Framework document

Members discussed a further draft of the Framework Document between SCoSS and the Scottish Government, which was revised by Scottish Government officials after SCoSS provided feedback on an original draft at February’s board meeting.

The Chair noted the fundamental importance of the Framework Document, which sets out the broad framework within which SCoSS operates, and raised concerns that the draft under consideration appeared to be written more for an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body than an Advisory Non-Departmental Public Body like SCoSS. It was important to ensure that the framework document fully reflects SCoSS’s independence and accountability, not least because the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 explicitly states that SCoSS is not subject to the direction or control of any member of the Scottish Government.

Members provided specific suggestions on how the drafting of the Framework Document could be improved, including in relation to describing SCoSS’s statutory functions, and flagged its relationship with the Scottish Parliament.  

The Chair noted the importance of agreeing a final version as soon as possible given the time already taken to develop the Framework Document.

Colin Armstrong said that the overall structure of the SCoSS Framework Document was standard and based on the roles of an advisory body. He requested Members’ detailed comments on the Framework Document and committed to reviewing feedback as a matter of urgency. He also noted, in relation to concerns raised by SCoSS over a prolonged period, the need for the Framework Document to provide clarity on the issue of delegated spending authority, and lines of financial accountability more generally.

The Chair also requested an update from Scottish Government on other outstanding issues: a Memorandum of Understanding between SCoSS and the Scottish Government on freedom of information; whether the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 applies to SCoSS; and, whether any legislation applies to SCoSS that is not mentioned in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.  

Action – Members to provide comments on the draft Framework Document to the Secretariat. The Secretariat will provide collated feedback to the Sponsor team.

Action – Chair to discuss the progress of the Framework Document at her next meeting with the Scottish Government’s Deputy Director of Social Security Policy.  

Action – Secretariat to request an update from Scottish Government officials on progress being made on a Memorandum of Understanding between SCoSS and the Scottish Government on freedom of information; whether the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 applies to SCoSS; and, whether any legislation applies to SCoSS that is not mentioned in the Social Security (Scotland) Act. 

6.     Audit Scotland briefing

The Board received a presentation from Audit Scotland officials on the role of Audit Scotland and on how they would undertake SCoSS’s audit. Audit Scotland also explained how they had calculated the indicative audit fee and noted that the final fee would be reviewed to ensure it accurately reflected the work undertaken by Audit Scotland.

The Chair stressed that SCoSS would welcome as much clarity in as timely a fashion as possible from Audit Scotland to ensure that it was appropriately undertaking its roles, including in relation to governance, bearing in mind that this should be accurately reflected in the framework document with Scottish Government. Members asked what Audit Scotland’s expectations were concerning SCoSS’s governance arrangements and how the audit fee had been constructed, including through any comparisons with similar sized bodies.

Audit Scotland confirmed that SCoSS is responsible for its own governance arrangements and that Audit Scotland follows the Code of Audit Practice which outlines the responsibilities of external auditors including governance considerations. Examples were provided of what the auditors would look at to assess governance, such as whether there was a process in place to identify, assess and mitigate risks. Audit Scotland also explained that the audit fee is not set in relation to the size of the body (in terms of the number of staff), but more on the cost to Audit Scotland of undertaking the audit.

Members agreed that, in the absence of comparative information, the Chair should confirm in writing to Audit Scotland that the Board accepts the level of the indicative audit fee. 

Action – Chair to write to Audit Scotland to confirm SCoSS’s agreement to the provisional audit fee for 2019/20

After Audit Scotland officials left, and in light of the earlier discussion on the SCoSS Framework Document, Members considered the issue of financial reporting to SCoSS’s board. Members noted that, given the lack of progress in establishing lines of financial responsibilities in the Framework Document, it had been difficult to determine what financial information should regularly be circulated to the Board. Members agreed that the Secretariat should provide updates at future board meetings on SCoSS’s spending to date and projected spend, noting SCoSS’s small budget and very limited areas of spending. This approach would be conveyed to Scottish Government officials in providing feedback on the Framework Document.   

Action – The Secretariat will provide regular financial updates to the Board on SCoSS’s spending to date and projected spending.

Given the ongoing delay in publishing SCoSS’s Business Plan and difficulties in knowing enough about future work plans, due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, Members agreed that SCoSS should produce a public document setting out SCoSS’s aims, vision and values, and explaining SCoSS’s statutory roles.

A formal Business Plan will be produced at a later date, when SCoSS is provided with details on the Scottish Government’s revised legislative timetable.

Action – Secretariat to develop, for the Board’s future consideration, a document explaining SCoSS’s statutory roles, and its aims, visions and values.

7. Continuous improvement

Members briefly considered a paper by the Secretariat on how the Board could seek to continuously improve its work. Given time pressures, Members agreed to provide more detailed comments by email exchange.    

Members agreed to request of the Scottish Government that action should be initiated to appoint a fifth person to the SCoSS Board, and discussed the potential skills and experience that it would be beneficial for the individual to have. Member also agreed that, in conveying this request to the Scottish Government, the Secretariat should stress the importance of the appointment process being fully accessible. 

Action – Members to provide feedback to the Secretariat on a paper that asks how the Board can continuously seek to improve its work.

Action – Secretariat to contact the Scottish Government sponsor team to confirm that SCoSS wishes to appoint a fifth Board Member; to discern the process and timelines for appointment; and to stress that the process should be conducted in a fully accessible manner.

8. Members’ Appraisals

Members had a private discussion on the Chair’s proposed approach to undertaking Members’ annual appraisals. It was agreed that Members’ letters of appointment would be used as the basis for appraisals for the first year of SCoSS’s existence, in the absence of other points of reference, and that Members may also seek feedback from the Secretariat as part of the process.

Action – members’ appraisals to be scheduled by the Chair.

9. Involving people with lived experience in SCoSS’s   work

The Board considered a paper by Sharon McIntyre setting out possible approaches to systematically and meaningfully involving people with lived experience in SCoSS’s work. Doing so would enhance SCoSS’s ability to perform its statutory roles. 

Members noted that engagement may vary depending on which of SCoSS’s statutory functions was being engaged, and that it may be necessary to create a sub-committee to ensure that voices and experiences were captured. Members also noted the importance of carefully drafting the terms of reference for any sub-committee created.

In terms of seeking the views of people with lived experience on the Charter, Members agreed to await the publication of the Scottish Government’s annual report on the social security system. This would allow SCoSS to determine how it could best add value.

Action – Chair and Sharon McIntyre to work up terms of reference for a sub-committee involving people with lived experience in SCoSS’s work.

Action – Sharon McIntyre to develop a framework for systematically involving people with lived experience in SCoSS’s work.

10. Complaints

Members considered a paper by the Secretariat explaining SCoSS’s statutory duty to establish a complaints handling procedure, in line with guidance from the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). 

The paper noted that the relevant material provided by the SPSO ran to over 50 pages and contained various parts where SCoSS had discretion to edit or supplement the text. The Board agreed that it would be more productive for a member to volunteer to work with the Secretariat to produce a draft complaints handling procedure, which could then be considered and agreed at a future board meeting. Mark Simpson volunteered to assist the Secretariat.

Action – Secretariat and Mark Simpson to draft a SCoSS complaints handling procedure for consideration at a future board meeting.

11. Rolling actions record

Members discussed the rolling actions record and agreed that various actions should be updated.

Members confirmed, in light of SCoSS’s recent agreement of its Code of Conduct, that they did not wish to make any changes to their register of interests.

Action – The Secretariat to publish Members’ register of interests and Code of Conduct on SCoSS’s webpages. 

12. Any other business

Members asked whether the Scottish Government is working on any draft regulations that SCoSS will be asked to scrutinise.

Members agreed to hold an ad hoc meeting in July to discuss a draft scrutiny report on the Winter Heating Assistance draft regulations.

Action – Chair and Secretariat to ask Scottish Government officials for an update on the legislative timetable for draft regulations that SCoSS will scrutinise.

Action – Secretariat to set up an ad hoc meeting in July for Members to discuss SCoSS’s scrutiny report on the draft Winter Heating Assistance regulations.

Date of the next Board meeting: 11-12 August 2020.

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