An IT contract to deliver Scotland’s new welfare benefits has been hit by a delay.
Social security minister Jeane Freeman said the setback had been caused by a delay in the handing over of a code, adding it was an example of actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) having “a negative knock-on effect”.
She told Holyrood’s social security committee today the incident would not alter the timetable for the first wave of devolved benefits to be delivered, but had amplified concerns over how the DWP was prioritising the handover.
The Social Security Act, unanimously passed by MSPs last week, hands control of 11 benefits to Holyrood.
An £8.3 million two-year contract was awarded to IBM in November last year to deliver a case management system for the first wave of the benefits by summer next year.
Ms Freeman said she had written to the committee “to explain a delay in the transfer over of a code that has caused us some delay in the delivery of the contract that we have undertaken with IBM”.
She added: “That will not cause a delay to our current timetable for the delivery of wave one benefits, but it is an example again of where what the DWP does internally can have a negative knock-on effect to what we’re doing, so we have to keep pressing on that.”
Ms Freeman has already expressed concern the DWP had delayed plans to hand Scotland the power to abolish the bedroom tax, but said the two governments were continuing to work well and cordially together on the transfer of the powers.
She said: “Nonetheless, I think it is fair that whilst we have the assurances from DWP ministers that this work for them is one of their priorities, it is absolutely my job and our Cabinet secretary’s to ensure that that is borne out in reality.
“The bedroom tax example has given us some concern and our response to that has been to redouble our efforts to ensure that we continue to press that in the list of priorities that the DWP has to deliver, that not only do we remain high in that list as the commitment that’s been given to us says we will, but also that the DWP thinks about the impact of anything it’s doing to its own systems as a consequential knock-on effect to what we’re doing.”
The minister insisted the Government’s plans for delivery of the first wave of benefits were “on track”.
She said she disagreed with the conclusions of a recent Audit Scotland report that the IT system “may only be able to process wave one benefits”.
“I understand Audit Scotland’s job is to identify risks, as indeed is mine, but I think in this area the evidence that they suggest lies behind their risk is not accurate and I want to reassure the committee that that is not the case.”