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 approach to IT for social security.
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.
Programme Management Arrangements
The delivery mechanism for the safe and secure transfer of social security benefits, together with the creation of the executive Agency, will be via an appropriately controlled and directed programme of work – the Social Security Programme. The Senior Responsible Owner is the Social Security Director, and the Programme Board is chaired by the Accountable Officer - the Director General (DG) for Organisational Development and Operations. The Programme has in place appropriate governance and control mechanisms and is subject to the Scottish Government's independent assurance arrangements including OGC Gateway, Internal Audit and the new Technology Assurance Framework with its mandatory Stop/Go gates. The Programme is further supported by joint working groups such as Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare.
The vision for the social security digital and technology solutions is one which is 'benefit neutral' and can support multiple benefits irrespective of their type, entitlement, or payment frequency, without the need to re-engineer or create separate systems for separate benefits as they transfer to us or even future social security powers.
The agency will be operating in a digital age and will be designed to take advantage of digital platforms and modern business practices. The new agency must meet the needs of the people who use its services. We already know that many people who claim benefits want to be able to talk face to face to a real person as they use our services, whilst others want to avoid unnecessary journeys and would prefer to apply online or talk to someone over the telephone. We will therefore ensure that the new agency enables people to choose different ways of applying for benefits or seeking our advice.
Dignity and respect for individuals is at the heart of everything we do. Working with the people who will apply for and receive support from the new agency to understand their needs is critical to this. 2,400 people have volunteered to be part of our Experience Panels, and they will help us to define the service that the social security agency offers, and the ways in which technology should support that service. This will inform user needs, which will drive the detailed design of the service, processes and systems.
Working with DWP
We are at the beginning of a lengthy journey to create the digital and technology solutions which will support both the initial 11 benefits being devolved and further social security powers. An understanding of the existing DWP benefit systems is an important part of our evidence base, as it informs the experience that users have just now. DWP systems have evolved over the last 30 years with many of the core benefit systems deployed on ageing technology platforms with legacy application software.
In the team we have people with specific knowledge of the current and historical systems used by DWP, and in particular the benefits being transferred to Scotland. This is important because it provides us with a solid basis for understanding the technical challenges we will face throughout the programme and ensures we are not 'flying blind'. Our initial activities have necessarily been focused on discovery and documenting the current solutions deployed by the DWP. This has illustrated a number of complexities we need to tackle.
A number of the devolved benefits are passported – the eligibility criteria for them require individuals to be in receipt of other benefits from DWP. This means that, on an ongoing basis, we will need to be able to access data from DWP and relate it to data that the social security agency holds about people in Scotland who have applied for or are receiving the devolved benefits.
Investing in technology
Our approach is fully aligned to the Scottish Government's Digital First Service Standards. Although we expect that many people, when they are applying for benefits or contacting the agency, will come through non-digital channels (e.g. on paper application forms or by phone). This aligns with the service standards – the aspects of the service that depend on technology should be modern and efficient, and should support people through the channel that suits them.
We aim to make the reuse of Government services that are currently available to complement what we will procure from the commercial sector. This approach will reduce delivery risks and allow us to replace components of the wider technology estate rather than undertake major modernisation programmes in the future.
We know that one of the key issues in DWP is that information about individuals is held in different systems, and it is difficult to pull that together to provide a clear and consistent view of all the support that an individual is getting. This is an important part of our approach – designing our data and systems in a way that makes it as easy as possible for people to access the support to which they are entitled.
We have started procurement activity to bring in IT suppliers to support our first wave of delivery of benefits, as well as more detailed work to understand the additional complexity that will come with managing the disability-related benefits.
Since early this year we have had a dedicated Chief Digital Officer (CDO) who is responsible for delivering the inward and outward facing technology required to support the transfer of social security powers safely and securely. Part of this role is to ensure that what we develop is built with the needs of the individual at the front of our minds, and that their experience with the agency is one which has dignity and respect at its core.
The CDO has significant previous experience in both the public and private sector, having most recently been responsible for the Scottish Government's own IT platforms and shared IT services and having delivered significant IT programmes, within time and budgetary limits, for commercial sector organisations and the NHS in England. He is building a strong and capable team, forming good relationships with DWP and the wider UK Government (e.g. GDS) and embedding lessons learned from other programmes, such as CAP, into the foundations of our approach.
We have conducted a thorough lessons learned exercise over several months. This included a review of over 25 other major projects and programmes across the Scottish Government and wider public sector. The findings from this work have been 'hard wired' into our approach with specific action owners allocated against the lessons and/or actions. This is a dynamic piece of work and will continually be updated. Discussions with previous significant IT Programmes including NHS24, AFRC Futures, Police Scotland i6, continues to shape the thinking and approach to the creation of technology solutions that will underpin the transfer of powers. Lessons learned activity is integrated in our response to the Audit Scotland recommendations paper, with a series of actions being planned, and incorporated into our existing multi-project activities.
Head of Technologies and Platforms
Glasgow, G2 8LU
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