SNP brand Westminster offer of welfare help ‘ridiculous’

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SNP ministers were reportedly infuriated by an offer from Theresa May’s government to step in if Scotland’s new social security agency is delayed.

The UK Government said it was ready to continue to pay benefits due to be delivered by the Scottish Government if the agency was not up and running by agreed deadlines.

Jeane Freeman has described the devolution of social security as the biggest transfer of power since the creation of the Scottish Parliament

Jeane Freeman has described the devolution of social security as the biggest transfer of power since the creation of the Scottish Parliament

Caroline Gardner, Scotland’s auditor-general, has previously warned that meeting next summer’s deadline would be difficult as staffing levels may not be achieved in time.

Jeane Freeman, Holyrood’s social security minister, last week described the devolution of social security as the “single biggest handover of power” since the Scottish Parliament was created in 1999.

But a spokeswoman for the UK department of work and pensions (DWP) said it was still waiting on vital information on “how or when” Holyrood intends to produce benefits, The Times reported.

Ms Freeman told the newspaper that the offer was “ridiculous”. She said: “As the DWP knows, it has a major responsibility in the transfer of the 11 newly devolved benefits. It is not simply a handover and we have yet to see any of its detailed plans for the safe and secure transfer of these benefits and to demonstrate they can match the Scottish Government’s pace.”

READ MORE: Freeman warns that DWP delays may hit benefits handover

Holyrood is to take control of 11 benefits as part of the post-referendum deal on new powers for Holyrood. This accounts for about 15% of current social, security spend, roughly £3 million in total.

The minister claimed it would be “easier” to take control of the entire benefits system at Holyrood as the proposed hybrid set-up just leads to “complexity.”

The minister also admitted that the overhaul of IT systems and infrastructure also present a major a “risk” in the transfer of powers.