Annual Report and Accounts for year ended 2021-22
Scottish Commission on Social Security (SCoSS) annual report and accounts for the year ended 31 March 2022.
2. Performance Report
The Performance Report describes:
- SCoSS’s purpose: its main statutory roles and its membership
- SCoSS’s performance: how well it has performed these statutory roles
- SCoSS’s continuous improvement: the steps the SCoSS Board has taken to ensure its work can be as effective as possible
- the risks that could affect SCoSS’s performance and the action taken to mitigate them
- SCoSS’s strategies and governance: the strategies SCoSS has agreed to ensure strong governance
- The Chair’s statement and overview of the performance report also form part of the Performance Report.
SCoSS purpose and structure
SCoSS is an independent public body established by the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 (‘the Act’). It provides expert advice to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament on devolved social security matters.
The Act sets out SCoSS’s main roles, which can be summarised as follows—
- SCoSS must be consulted by the Scottish Government on most regulations about social security assistance made under the Act. SCoSS scrutinises and reports on draft regulations. The Scottish Government may change its regulations after considering SCoSS’s recommendations. When it lays the regulations in the Scottish Parliament, it must publish its response to SCoSS’s report at the same time. The Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee (now the Social Justice and Social Security Committee) then scrutinises the regulations and may take evidence from SCoSS members when it does so.
- SCoSS must report, from time to time, to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament on whether the expectations in the Scottish social security charter (‘Our Charter’) are being met and make recommendations for improvement if they are not. It must consider reporting if it receives evidence that the Charter expectations are frequently not being fulfilled. Our Charter was published by the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland. It translates into practice what the social security principles contained within the Act mean in practice and what people are entitled to expect from the Scottish Government and Social Security Scotland.
- In addition, Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament can ask SCoSS to report on any matter relevant to social security.
In undertaking its statutory duties, SCoSS takes full account of the social security principles contained within the Act and of relevant human rights obligations as defined by the Act.
SCoSS Board members, including the Chair, are non-executive public appointments made by the Scottish Ministers in line with the Code of Practice for Ministerial Public Appointments in Scotland. The Chair is responsible for providing leadership to ensure that the Board delivers its functions efficiently and effectively. The Chair is accountable to the Scottish Ministers. The role of Board members is to provide direction, support and guidance to ensure that SCoSS delivers its functions effectively and efficiently, in accordance with the Act.
SCoSS members were originally appointed for periods of three or four years. From January 2022, Judith Paterson and Sharon McIntyre were both reappointed to the SCoSS Board for terms of four years and two years respectively. Members may devote up to 36 days a year to perform their functions, apart from the Chair, who may devote up to 60 days. SCoSS is supported by a small secretariat employed by the Scottish Government.
The Act allows up to five commissioners to be appointed. The Scottish Government is in the process of recruiting a new Chair to replace Dr Sally Witcher OBE who stood down in September 2022, and two new commissioners. In addition, a temporary Board member was appointed in September 2022.
In response to a recommendation made by Audit Scotland in its 2019-20 and 2020-21 audit reports, SCoSS has appointed a consultant (Audit Adviser), from April 2022, to attend appropriate Board meetings to test and advise the Board on the exercise of their audit functions. This appointment is not a full member of the SCoSS Board and is, in effect, an adviser appointed to carry out the specific requirements relating to the auditing functions of SCoSS. This is in accordance with the requirement in the Act that “Scottish Ministers are to provide the Commission with such staff and other resources as it requires to carry out its functions”.
During the course of the reporting year, SCoSS scrutinised and reported on nine sets of regulations. We also carried out preparatory work with regard to reporting on the Charter but have not yet issued a report. No requests were received from the Scottish Parliament or Scottish Government to report on matters related to social security.
SCoSS held eleven Board meetings between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2022. In December 2021 the Board agreed to move from 6 weekly Board meetings to monthly Board meetings due to pressure of work.
SCoSS has no physical offices and whereas, pre-Covid, meetings were primarily held at the Scottish Government building Victoria Quay in Edinburgh. In 2021-22, all Board meetings were conducted virtually. To ensure that its decision-making and proceedings are transparent, the minutes of all formal SCoSS’s Board meetings are published on its website. SCoSS’s scrutiny reports and corporate documents are also publicly available on the website.
SCoSS’s vision and strategic objectives
Our 2021-22 Business Plan sets out SCoSS’s vision, which informs the delivery of our statutory functions:
A robust, effective, efficient Scottish social security system that meets its full potential to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland. To help achieve the vision for Scottish social security by providing independent expert advice that adds demonstrable and significant value.
SCoSS’s strategies for discharging its objectives, corporate functions and governance responsibilities continue to bed in. In general, the Board has ensured proportionate compliance with best practice principles and relevant guidance around corporate governance, primarily as described in ‘On Board’.
There is a joint protocol that describes the respective roles of SCoSS and Scottish Government with regard to the scrutiny of draft regulations. The protocol seeks to ensure that SCoSS has adequate time and information to scrutinise effectively and provide timely advice. Since the protocol was developed, SCoSS and the Scottish Government have amassed considerably more experience of the process in practice which will inform a review in the coming year.
While our Framework Document with the Scottish Government was not discussed in this reporting year, it was extensively reviewed in 2019-20. There remain outstanding points to be finalised which will be addressed in the next reporting year. Board members raised concerns and sought to ensure that it fully reflected SCoSS’s independence and accountability, in line with the Act. In relation to concerns raised by SCoSS, the Scottish Government provided an annex to the Framework Document that clarified delegated spending authority, and lines of financial accountability more generally. The Scottish Government has commissioned an independent review of SCoSS to consider matters related to the remit and governance, which will include the framework document and sponsorship. The Audit Adviser will participate in the Governance review and framework document. The overall review will report in early 2023.
The Board receives quarterly financial updates showing SCoSS’s expenditure to date and projected for the current financial year, and comparison of spend against the budget. Reports include updates on the progress of the audit. This approach reflects SCoSS’s comparatively small budget of £340,000, and the fact a significant proportion of it represents expenditure on secretariat salaries. It is also cognisant of the breadth of financial controls employed by the Scottish Government to ensure that SCoSS and its Secretariat discharge their financial responsibilities appropriately.
Despite challenges faced during the reporting period, particularly arising from the on-going pandemic and staff turnover, SCoSS produced nine scrutiny reports that sought to influence positive change on the emerging social security system in Scotland. Therefore, SCoSS performance met expectations over the reporting year. Further information on our performance is detailed below.
2.2 Analysis of SCoSS’s performance
In common with previous financial years, a considerable proportion of the Board’s time this year has been devoted to scrutinising and reporting on draft regulations referred by the Scottish Government. We consider the effectiveness of our scrutiny below, but first reflect on the extent to which we have delivered the priorities outlined in our 2021-22 Business Plan.
SCoSS produced a full business plan in 2021. The progress made is assessed below.
1. Scrutinise and report on draft regulations referred to SCoSS by Scottish Ministers within agreed timescales.
SCoSS produced nine scrutiny reports in the reporting year, within agreed timescales. This was the most scrutiny reports completed within a reporting year since the formation of SCoSS.
1.1. Consult (written evidence, round tables, events etc) with stakeholders to inform our scrutiny of draft regulations where this can add value and is timely and affordable.
SCoSS engaged directly with stakeholders, largely through written calls for evidence, during the scrutiny of draft regulations. Stakeholder engagement plans will be further developed as a priority for the next reporting year.
1.1.1. Engage with Scottish Government officials on policy, Equality Impact Assessments, consultations and research.
SCoSS engaged with Scottish Government officials productively for every set of regulations scrutinised.
2. Develop a Lived Experience framework, utilising existing Lived Experience engagement mechanisms.
This priority was not progressed as much as we would have liked due to the large number of regulations that required scrutiny and constraints on secretariat capacity. It will be taken forward when time and resources allow.
3. Develop a strategic approach to fulfil our Charter function which also enhances our scrutiny function.
This priority is being progressed, through the development of a set of research aims and questions to report against the commitments made in Section 4 of Our Charter. Research with stakeholders will be taken forward as a priority in the next reporting year.
3.1. Strengthen our relationship with Social Security Scotland.
Quarterly meetings between the Chair and Chief Executive of Social Security Scotland have been established. The Deputy Director for Strategy, Change, Data & Engagement attended SCoSS Board meetings in the reporting year.
3.1.1. Build strong relationships with Scottish Government Ministers and Parliamentary Committee members with responsibility for social security.
The change in Parliamentary term meant that the membership of the Ministers and Committee was refreshed and SCoSS continues to build relationships with the new Ministers and Committee. The Chair attended an introductory meeting with the Social Justice and Social Security Committee. The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government and the Minister for Social Security and Local Government have attended SCoSS Board meetings.
4. Launch a new website that is transparent, inclusive and provides full access to all our reports and minutes.
The website was not launched during the reporting year but is now live and is updated on a regular basis.
5. Create a communications plan to support engagement with our stakeholders.
This priority was not progressed due to the large number of regulations that required scrutiny and constraints on secretariat capacity. It will be taken forward when time and resources allow.
6. Appoint an audit adviser to support the board with governance and audit related work.
The audit adviser is in place and is supporting the Board and Secretariat with governance and audit work.
7. Develop our capacity and capability through the commencement of recruitment for a 5th board member to join SCoSS, strengthening the expertise of our board.
While SCoSS faces the challenge of losing two Board members, including the Chair, recruitment is underway to fill the position of SCoSS chair and for two new commissioners to join the board. In addition, a temporary Board member was appointed in September 2022.
8. Develop and deliver our Continuous Improvement Action Plan (CIAP).
The CIAP is still being developed and will be progressed when time and resources allow.
8.1. Develop our secretariat capacity and capability.
The Secretariat has undergone significant change in the reporting year, with significant new recruitment designed to strengthen secretariat capability and capacity.
SCoSS’s scrutiny of draft regulations
Within the reporting period of these accounts, SCoSS produced nine substantive reports on draft regulations. We are pleased that, with an increase on last year’s performance, 88% of SCoSS’s recommendations were accepted, at least in part, by the Scottish Government.
The response to our recommendations demonstrates that SCoSS’s independent scrutiny, in line with our agreed vision, is adding value and helping to create a social security system that is improving outcomes for the people of Scotland.
In undertaking its scrutiny, SCoSS has not just made recommendations on the wording of draft regulations or on direct policy considerations, but has also considered the bigger picture. This reflects the fact that we are obliged to scrutinise draft regulations against the principles in the Act and these span the whole policy cycle from policy design through to continuous improvement. For example, we have consistently called on the Scottish Government to ensure that long-term policy success is monitored and assessed, and to provide as much clarity as possible for those receiving or providing advice on benefits. We have also highlighted to Scottish Government officials that we will continue to look for consistency and simplicity across benefits, where possible, as this should help to make the system easier to navigate.
The Board has also worked to develop a good working relationship with the new Social Justice and Social Security Committee, to inform its scrutiny. For example, two SCoSS members gave evidence on our report on draft Adult Disability Payment regulations. Further, the SCoSS Chair attended an informal business planning meeting held by the Committee to explain how SCoSS could potentially add value to its work.
We continue to work with other bodies that have a formal role in the social security system to ensure that our scrutiny is as informed as possible.
SCoSS is also taking steps to ensure that the commissioners have the skills and knowledge they need to ensure their continuous improvement. Commissioners have completed two surveys that will result in the creation of a development and training template. We will also ensure that our work takes account of the recommendations made by Audit Scotland on last year’s annual report and accounts.
Risks facing SCoSS
SCoSS noted in last year’s annual report and accounts the various risks facing what was, at that point, a body in its second year of operation. In summary, there was continued disruption to the legislative timetable due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, the election and subsequent changes to key Government and Parliamentary stakeholders. Changes to staffing within the Secretariat also created a risk of instability however this was managed by Scottish Government who have responsibility for staff resourcing. The Secretariat resourcing issues also created an additional pressure for the Board, however this has eased with the appointment of additional staff and recruitment for the board progressing.
The SCoSS Board has continued to review its risk register on a regular basis, namely at the June, November and March Board meetings, allowing members to consider risks and how they could be mitigated in a systematic and strategic manner. The risk update presented to the Board is reviewed by the Chair in advance of the meeting which the members are then invited to comment on. The Board agreed that some risks required updated wording, that risks have increased or decreased and that new risks should be created, specifically regarding the interface of financial roles and responsibilities with SG and how SCoSS was constituted as a public body.
When a risk update is to be presented at a Board meeting, Secretariat undertake the first review of the risk register, considering where any risks scores have increased or decreased, how any mitigating actions have progressed or whether any new actions are required and whether there are any new risks. Risk scores are based on impact and likelihood and each of these rises in increments of five up to twenty five. Multiplying the impact and likelihood scores creates the overall risk score and Secretariat assign these with a red, amber, green colour depending on the risk score. Any mitigating actions are also assigned to groups or individuals and timelines for actions to be completed are noted and updated. A dashboard at the start of the risk update comprises of any ‘red’ risks, risks where there score has increased or decreased and any new risks.
During the reporting period, there were four significant risks identified through the risk management process. Firstly, resourcing and the balance of skills required across required to fulfil the remit of SCoSS. The Secretariat experienced a period of staff turnover during the reporting period. In recent months, the size of the SCoSS Secretariat has been significantly expanded in order to mitigate this risk and a full staffing complement is in place as of November 2022.
Secondly, ensuring a balance of skills across the membership of the Board . The Board has also undergone a period of turnover in recent months. Currently, there is a public appointments process underway to recruit a new Chair and two new Members to the Board which should be complete by the end of 2022. This will expand the Board to five Members and significantly reduce the risk that had been identified during the reporting period. In addition, a temporary Board member was appointed in September 2022 and an Audit Adviser to SCoSS has also been appointed. The Audit Adviser is currently undertaking a full review of the risk register and approach to managing risk in order to ensure that the approach taken is both comprehensive and proportionate.
Thirdly, there was a risk identified regarding ensuring that the Scottish Government provides information to SCoSS timeously in order that SCoSS can undertake scrutiny and corporate functions effectively. Lastly, a risk was identified relating to the way in which SCoSS was constituted. Currently, there is a wide-ranging review of SCoSS being undertaken by independent, external consultants which, as part of its remit, will address these issues concerning these latter two risks. It is anticipated that the review will be completed in December 2022 or early 2023.
A full review of SCoSS’s arrangements for corporate governance and risk management was not undertaken in 2021-22. Since the appointment of an Audit Adviser in April 2022, a full review is planned to be undertaken.
SCoSS was delegated a budget of £0.34m by Ian Davidson as the Accountable Officer, as per advice of the Sponsor Team. This was based on SCoSS’s forecasted spending requirements that were projected and reviewed at the beginning of the year. At year end, SCoSS had spent £0.26m, a £0.08m underspend against the budget.
This underspend was “re-absorbed” into the overall Scottish Government spend at year end. For a full breakdown of costs spent by SCoSS in 2021-22, please refer to Section 5 – Financial Accounts.
Underspend amounts presented to the Board during the reporting period differed to the final underspend due to uncertainty throughout the year from the impact of Covid and the delay to projects such as the website. The breakdown of budget amounts presented to the Board also changed during the reporting year as Secretariat refined and streamlined this process.
SCoSS’s new dedicated website went live in July 2022.
Secretariat began working with the supplier from early February 2021 to create the new website, however the reduced Secretariat capacity had effected a pause to the project. Additional Secretariat staff were trained to help progress the website which is being updated on a regular basis.
Accountable Officer (Deputy Director, Social Security Policy)