An update on devolved social security issues in Scotland and PCS negotiations.
The First Minister announced that Dundee would be the Scottish Social Security agency HQ, with an equal sized site also based in Glasgow. Buildings within the cities have not yet been selected, but both buildings must be based within accessible reach of the community as they will have a section open to the public to deliver face to face help.
The Social Security Minister, Jeane Freeman, has confirmed that at least 1500 staff will be split between Dundee and Glasgow, with a further 400 covering local delivery across Scotland. There are no decisions on where local delivery staff will be sited, although co-location with other existing face to face public services is a strong consideration.
In her contribution to parliament, the Minister specifically stated that she and her officials would work with PCS to identify any potential for Cabinet Office Statement of Principles (COSOP) transfers for existing DWP staff.
Meeting with Minister
PCS met with Jeane Freeman to discuss the above announcement. A constructive and open discussion took place on the development of the agency. She explained that Dundee and Glasgow had been selected to spread the socio-economic impact, and both have the potential to recruit the people needed to staff the agency. The workplaces will not be based in remote business parks.
On local delivery, the Minister explained that pre-claims and benefits advice will be provided with on-going claim support. Work is under way in each local authority area to determine how the agency will fit in with what is currently being delivered to avoid duplication of service. A joint agreement with COSLA (the collective organisation for local authorities) is being drawn up to determine common principles as, although the precise model may differ by local authority area, the aims and outcomes will be the same.
The Minister offered some reassurance that the mandatory redetermination process would not be a carbon copy of the derided mandatory reconsideration procedures that currently exist within DWP. A level of benefit payment will be reinstated whilst the redetermination is underway, and she was clear that the Social Security Agency will not operate in the same way as DWP. PCS, however, remain concerned that it will still be perceived by claimants and welfare rights advisors as an unnecessary step in appealing decisions.
Further meetings will be arranged early in the New Year as part of the on-going positive relationship that the union has fostered with the Minister.
Social Security Committee
PCS gave evidence to the Social Security Committee. Our written submission can be found on page 17. During the committee, PCS highlighted the following as key areas for inclusion or consideration for the social security bill as it stands:
- A commitment in the bill to the exclusion of the private sector.
- Vigorous scrutiny of the new agency.
- A commitment to an annual uprating of benefits. Decoupling the annual uprating from being in line with the retail prices index and inflation has been a significant move by the Westminster Government.
- A commitment to mitigate sanctions using the short-term assistance that is included in the bill.
- A commitment to all devolved benefits having a payment pending appeal process, which is a step beyond what the bill includes at the moment. The bill allows for short-term assistance, but it should go back to the system before the Welfare Reform Act 2012, when claimants could continue to receive their benefits until their appeal, if a decision was made against them.
- The process for mandatory redetermination is appears to mirror the DWP’s mandatory reconsideration process too closely.
- Sufficient resources to staff the agency in order to move away from a focus on quantity over quality.
Operations Reference Group
PCS has taken a seat on the SG’s Operations Reference Group, which is made up of external stakeholders such as welfare rights, charities and local authorities.
Consultation with Scottish Government
PCS representatives from the Scottish Social Security Working Party (SSSWP) have met with SG officials as part of our on-going negotiations.
The executive agency is not yet live. It is expected to be formed to deliver the first benefits in summer 2018. There has been no decision as to whether the agency will be a separate bargaining unit, but there will be a common set of terms and conditions with the main Scottish Government group. Opening hours of the service have not, as yet, been determined.
Following the announcement of locations, work is underway to formalise a recruitment strategy. There will be 250 staff working in the new agency by summer 2019. The first benefit to be delivered will be the carer’s supplement, which is a top-up payment to the existing DWP Carer’s Allowance. Funeral payments and best start (maternity) grants will come in the following year.
SG officials have confirmed that before exploring external recruitment, any potential COSOP will take priority, followed by staff in a redeployment situation (including UK civil service), and then internal recruitment opportunities (including UK civil service).
As job design and delivery has not been determined, it is not yet known if there will be any COSOP transfers. It is unlikely that any will arise from the carers supplement. COSOP will be considered on a benefit by benefit approach, as they will be devolved in stages.
The SG have committed to a full grading review, with PCS input, on the new job roles within the agency.
Further meetings have been scheduled. PCS will continue to engage fully in these negotiations and regularly update members and branches.
Consultation with DWP
PCS met with the Scottish Devolution Programme DWP officials on 23 October. Very little information was available, as they are awaiting meetings with SG officials to determine how they will handle COSOP considerations.
The programme agreed to improve communications to DWP staff, which until now have focussed on reacting to announcements in the Scottish Parliament.
PCS pressed DWP to consider providing more assurances to staff who are worried about the impact on their jobs when the benefits devolve. Previously DWP have said that there will be no job losses as a result of benefit devolution.
We are due to meet with DWP officials again in January 2018.
The Future of Social Security Scotland: views from within the system launch
This report has been produced following months of research with engagement from 228 DWP workers. DWP branches in Scotland attended a launch of the report on 7 November in the PCS office in Glasgow.