This paper is one of a series of papers in which the Scottish Government wishes to set out and (where appropriate) provide an update on its position on various matters relating to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill. The purpose of this paper is to set out the Scottish Government's current policy position on the development of the agency that will deliver the devolved social security benefits and it's local delivery services.
The Scotland Act 2016 devolved new social security powers to Scotland. Our paper Creating a Fairer Scotland: A New Future for Social Security in Scotland, which was published in March 2016, set out the Scottish Government's vision, key principles for the future of social security using these devolved powers and intention to establish an agency within the Scottish Government family to deliver the devolved benefits. The enabling legislation for this, the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 20 June 2017 and is currently undergoing Stage 1 of the Parliamentary scrutiny process.
The Agency will be a Scottish Government executive agency, under the direct control of the Scottish Ministers and directly accountable to Ministers and the Scottish Parliament. The Bill therefore treats the Scottish Ministers and the agency as though they are the same and there is no requirement to make additional legislative provision to bring the agency into being.
In developing social security services in Scotland we want to deliver accessible, person-centred and joined-up services. This reflects the messages coming through from the recent consultation on social security where it was clear that people should be given a choice in how services and support are delivered and accessed. Taking this into consideration, along with engagement with stakeholders from the third sector, local government and academia, a detailed options appraisal was completed to assess the different models of delivery that the agency could take. Following this exercise on the 27 April 2017, the Minister for Social Security announced the preferred delivery model for the agency. This explained that the agency will have strong local presence across Scotland, supported by efficient centralised functions.
This option of delivery will best deliver on our key objectives of:
- consistency of provision across Scotland
- a person centred, rights based service
- a strong local presence with a human face to improve accessibility and support
- the safe and secure transition for the 1.4 million who rely on this support
In delivering its services the agency will offer people a range of options in how they engage with it including online, by phone or through face-to-face contact that will be located, where possible, in places people already visit.
As an Executive Agency of the Scottish Government the new agency will be under the direct control of the Scottish Ministers, who are ultimately accountable to Parliament for the functions and performance of the agency. To ensure the proper financial and governance arrangements are in place, work is underway on a Framework Document for the agency which will detail the delegations to an agency accountable officer from the principal accountable officer for the Scottish Administration, in line with Section 15 of the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000.
In our approach to delivering the accessible and person-centred service, that so many people have asked for, the agency will provide a local presence across Scotland so it is directly responsive to people's needs. Locally based agency staff will provide people with one-to-one support and help them understand what devolved benefits they are entitled to, help complete applications, support people through the process and any follow up actions relating to their case. These staff will additionally have a local responsibility to visit people's homes when required and will cover prison services.
Work is underway to further develop the scope of the agency's local delivery service. This includes meeting with each local council to establish relationships with council officials, highlight our approach, learn from their practices and start conversations on locations where agency staff could have a presence within their area. As at 14 September we will have met with 16 councils (Councils we will have met with by 14 September are Inverclyde, Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, Renfrewshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Glasgow, Fife, Dundee, Falkirk, West Lothian, North Ayrshire, East Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, Orkney, East Lothian and West Dunbartonshire). These meetings have been positive with councils expressing a willingness to work with us and openness to co-location and closer working practices. We are also discussing with COSLA the opportunity to create an Overarching Partnership Agreement between the Scottish Government and COSLA to demonstrate our commitment to joined-up local delivery and to provide a consistent approach in the planning and delivery of co-located services for devolved social security. These guiding principles will be underpinned by local partnership agreements to allow arrangements to reflect local needs.
The Agency Operations Reference Group has also been established and brings together practitioners, with operational experience in delivering effective public services, to help shape the agency. The aim of the Group is to learn from their experiences, make connections to identify possible co-location opportunities and raise the profile of the agency and its role. Membership of the Group is from across public and third sector organisations (Membership and Groups Terms of Reference). The first meeting was held on 28 June and agreed the Group's role. A second meeting will take place on 20 September 2017 and focus on the approach we take to complaints, redeterminations and appeals.
Additionally to help raise awareness of the agency and the approach it will take we have met with, and delivered presentations for, a number of organisations. This includes meeting with Building Connections, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Disability Alliance Scotland (DAS) and Public Health Network. We have also presented at the Institute of Revenues Rating & Valuation (IRRV) Heads of Service meeting and Scottish conference and their Welfare Reform Consortium.
People and Location
In considering where the estimated 1,500+ staff supporting the centralised functions will be based, and given the economic opportunity this decision will bring, we are using the same robust multi-criteria framework as for the wider options appraisal, taking into account a variety of socio-economic factors. We will make an announcement on the agency location in the autumn. In line with our phased approach to safe and secure transition, we are also making the necessary plans for an interim site to host agency operations until the permanent agency location is ready.
As we approach the launch of the first Scottish benefits, we will continue to increase our staffing capabilities including the recruitment of our first operational staff ahead of summer 2018. To ensure that trade unions have a voice in the overall agency set up process we have established the Social Security Agency Partnership Working Forum. Membership of the Forum includes PCS Scotland, who are also representing Prospect and FDA at Partnership meetings, and feeds into the Strategic Forum, which was established to consider employment issues arising from the Smith Commission and Scotland Act conclusions.
In addition we are currently developing a COSoP (Cabinet Office Statement of Practice and is the public sector equivalent of TUPE) strategy paper which will be discussed and agreed with DWP. This process will be led by DWP and the Scottish Government will support that by providing analysis on a benefit by benefit basis outlining how each benefit will be administered in Scotland to allow that assessment to take place. We will also continue to work with the UK Government to ensure that all changes impacting on staff are communicated in good time.
To set up a new executive agency we are also undertaking the fundamental preparatory work required to implement any significant new public body. This includes developing a brand for the new agency, working with stakeholders and Experience Panels to ensure our approach aligns with our social security principles
Agency Implementation Officer
Glasgow, G2 8LU
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