‘Lack of progress’ on devolution of welfare talks

Social Justice secretary Alex Neil. Picture: Lisa FergusonSocial Justice secretary Alex Neil. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Social Justice secretary Alex Neil. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
THE Scottish Government has criticised a “frustrating lack of progress” on the further devolution of welfare powers ahead of a meeting with UK Government ministers to discuss the changes.

Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil and Fair Work Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will hold talks with Scotland Office minister David Mundell in Edinburgh later.

The meeting is the second of the joint ministerial working group on welfare, which was set up to help implement changes to the benefits system proposed by the Smith Commission on further devolution.

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Mr Neil and Ms Cunningham called on Westminster to speed up the process and ensure that the Smith recommendations are delivered in full.

The Scottish Government has previously raised concerns that draft clauses to implement the new powers would give UK ministers a veto over any changes to the new Universal Credit system put forward by Holyrood, and that the UK Government’s decision to extend work programme contracts undermines the good faith of the agreement.

Mr Neil said: “It has been over a month since the working group met for the first time and weeks since the Smith Commission delivered its recommendations.

“Over that period of time there has been a frustrating lack of progress from the UK Government in recognising that its current proposals do not meet Lord Smith’s recommendations.

“We want to see early progress on flexibilities around Universal Credit as well as assurances that the UK Government will deliver the Smith report in full.

“It’s really frustrating that the UK has refused to make early progress on those flexibilities, although these are technically feasible now.

“They have refused to change their draft clauses which fall short of the Smith proposals.”

Ms Cunningham added: “We await vital information on employment services, such as the Work Programme, to enable the Scottish Government to move forward quickly in re-designing this type of support for Scotland.

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“We are determined to use these powers to deliver seamless, effective support in Scotland that helps unemployed people in Scotland into work and delivers sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

“As we move towards the UK pre-election period, we call upon the UK Government to act swiftly on the Smith recommendations to ensure we can bring forward a Bill that is fit for purpose and allows us to take a new approach to tackling inequality.”