Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Loading…
Seòmar agus comataidhean

Public Audit Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, June 23, 2022

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, Section 23 Report: “Scotland’s financial response to Covid-19”, “Scotland’s economy: supporting businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic”, Section 23 Report: “Social security: Progress on implementing the devolved benefits”


Contents


Section 23 Report: “Social security: Progress on implementing the devolved benefits”

The Convener

Good morning again, and welcome back to the 19th meeting of the Public Audit Committee in 2022. Agenda item 3 is consideration of the report produced by the Auditor General on social security and implementing the devolved benefits. I am pleased that, for this evidence session, the Auditor General has been joined by Carole Grant, who is an audit director at Audit Scotland.

I will begin, Auditor General, by inviting you to give us a short opening statement, after which we will have questions from members of the committee.

Stephen Boyle

This report is the latest in a series examining the progress that the Scottish Government is making to establish the Scottish social security system. I am pleased to report that the implementation of the devolved social security powers is going well. The Scottish Government has implemented new and complex benefits, including the Scottish child payment and child disability payment. These are significant achievements. In addition, there is a focus on the needs of service users, building on the founding principles of the Scottish system.

The Scottish Government is preparing well for the next stages of delivery and is managing this complex programme of work effectively. It is also important to recognise that the scale of what is yet to be delivered is significant. The timescales set are challenging and it will be some time before the devolved benefits are fully administered in Scotland. My report highlights that there are some substantial remaining risks, including assessing relevant data, putting in place longer-term digital solutions and getting operational staffing in place. Managing those effectively will be critical.

The Scottish Government currently estimates that the work to implement the devolved benefits will cost £685 million up to 2025-26. I recognise that the scope of what is being delivered has increased over time, but as the Government’s understanding of what it requires to deliver this programme of work has improved, a lack of regular reporting has made it difficult for those charged with scrutiny to track costs. I welcome the minister’s recent announcement of his intention to publish a revised programme business case for social security later this year.

Critically, my report highlights the need for the Scottish Government to manage the long-term financial sustainability of its social security expenditure. My report noted that, by 2026-27, benefit expenditure in Scotland is forecast to be £760 million higher per year than the corresponding funding received through the block grant adjustment. The Scottish Fiscal Commission’s May forecasts show that the figure is now expected to increase to £1.3 billion over the same period. The Scottish Government’s other spending priorities will need to be managed alongside its social security priorities.

As you know, convener, I am joined by Carole Grant, who was involved in leading the preparation of the report, and between us we will look to answer the committee’s questions. Thank you.

The Convener

Thank you very much indeed for that opening statement. You mentioned the minister in your opening comments. Rather unusually, the minister wrote an unsolicited letter to the committee on 19 May, in which he set out his response to the report, using expressions including

“significant progress”,

“the scale of what we have achieved”,

“a very substantial achievement”,

“the Scottish Government is preparing well”,

“the recommendations that Audit Scotland have highlighted are areas we had already identified and were working on prior to receipt of this report”,

“things are demonstrably working”,

and

“we have got robust processes”

In and among all that, do you think that there is a recognition of the scale of the challenges that you identify in the report and which you mentioned in your opening statement, and a recognition that substantial risks remain—not least, for example, that of getting operational staffing in place? Can you comment on what you see as the position of Social Security Scotland and the Scottish Government on that? Do you think that they fully recognise the challenges that lie ahead?

Stephen Boyle

As we say in the report, and as I mentioned a moment or two ago, we think that they have made progress. This is a complex and significant programme of work—I am sure we will cover much of it in this evidence session. As I also said, there are significant risks to be managed and delivered on over the next few years. This is not particular to this programme, but the overall fiscal risks are very significant. The Scottish Fiscal Commission’s forecasts are now £1.3 billion—that is distinct from associated funding—and that will have to be managed within the entirety of the Scottish budget.

There are data risks to manage, there are information technology implementation requirements, and, as you mentioned and as we say in the report, this will be a very substantial staffing and public service operation. Many people in Scotland will rely on the services that will be provided by Social Security Scotland, some of which still have to be transferred from the Department for Work and Pensions. All that will have to be managed effectively over the next few years. It probably leads us to a balanced position of progress, but with many risks still to be addressed.

10:30  

Looking to the future and reflecting on the past, what do you think have been the critical factors that allowed for the reasonably successful start to the work of Social Security Scotland?

Stephen Boyle

I will offer a perspective on that and will bring in Carole Grant, who is close to some of the detail.

The overall arrangements, the planning, the relationships and many of the factors that we regularly speak about with the committee as hallmarks of well-run projects have been in place in the implementation of this very complex project. I do not think we can overstate the significance of Scotland having inherited benefits that were previously administered by the DWP and having implemented its own unique Scottish benefits for the provision of social security.

We have seen effective project management implementation, relationships have been important and leadership has worked well during the project, but none of that should be taken for granted, nor should we take it for granted that what has gone before necessarily means that everything will go well in the future. This is an interim report, and we are seeing signs of progress.

Carole Grant will also have a perspective.

Carole Grant (Audit Scotland)

As the Auditor General mentioned, the other thing that has been critically important is the relationships and the way in which those were established in the programme between the Scottish Government, Social Security Scotland and the DWP to ensure the flow of information, with everyone understanding the priorities and working towards the same aim. We have seen those relationships develop over the past few years and they have been critical to the successful delivery to date.

Thank you. That is useful. I invite Craig Hoy to put a couple of questions.

Craig Hoy

We note that, as a result of the Covid pandemic, some degree of prioritisation has been entered into and some of the more complex benefits are due to be delivered at pace over the coming years, including the adult disability payment. Do you believe that the current timetable, which is in exhibit 1, represents a sustainable pace of change? Do you think that it makes sufficient allowance for unforeseen circumstances or for competing priorities, such as the creation of a national care service? Is the timescale credible, or do you think that we will have to perhaps build in time for further delays?

Stephen Boyle

There is always a balance in setting a timescale that is stretching, achievable but not unrealistic. In the round, we think that the agency has done that. Carole Grant can update the committee in a bit more detail but it is safe to say that there has been some re-planning of implementation. The pandemic has understandably affected the anticipated earlier timescales for the roll-out of benefits in Scotland, but it is true to say that there are a couple of other factors, as you mentioned. One is the national care service, which will require considerable input. There will be competition for skills and services within the Government and within an already demanding market for some of the services that will be needed. There is a balance between employing people with those skills and bringing in contractors to support the implementation of projects where the skills cannot be sourced in-house.

In the round, we are seeing progress, but there are still some risks. Carole Grant might want to say a bit about this. One of the dependencies that we touch on in the report is a system of implementation that the DWP is working on for later this year that will be dependent on the roll-out of future benefits. “Stretching” and “achievable” are our watch words, but the timetable requires careful management, which we have seen up until now.

Carole Grant

The other thing to draw out is the risk management arrangements within the programme, which we see as robust. Although we comment on the lack of public reporting in terms of programme costs, we have seen very strong internal monitoring of costs and of the development of longer-term plans to enable delivery.

The Auditor General mentioned our reliance on the DWP, which has developed significantly over the past few months in terms of getting arrangements in place to ensure that the system can be delivered. That is recognised as a risk for all the partners involved and is being actively managed and monitored to support the delivery of the timeline that is detailed in exhibit 1.

Craig Hoy

One of the benefits that were introduced despite the Covid pandemic was the child disability payment, which was rolled out nationally in November 2021, following a pilot in three local authority areas. Your report states that the pilot provided a limited opportunity to test aspects of the benefit and that data collection was still being developed during the pilot process. What were the risks of the Government launching the pilot without sufficient testing and how has that impacted data collection? Are you confident that the current data collection system are fit for purpose?

Stephen Boyle

I will ask Carole Grant to pick up most of that, but I will make a general point about the approach that is being used, which is an Agile project implementation approach. Over the years, the committee has heard examples of where Agile projects have been implemented with varying degrees of success. In particular, it was not that long ago that the common agricultural policy futures programme was an example of Agile project implementation methodology that did not go well. There are trade-offs; that is the overall conclusion that we make in this report about the use of Agile. It allows the project to proceed, but some elements will have to be picked up at a later date. Those elements include aspects of evaluation and data collection. Alongside that, there are technological components and manual processes that allow for the right level of pace and sufficient analysis, but there is a recognition that that has to be picked up in maintenance and evaluation at a later stage. Overall, I think that the methodology is working well. Carole Grant can pick up on the trade-offs if she wishes.

Carole Grant

Specifically for the child disability payment, we say in the report that there was limited opportunity to test some aspects following the pilot. The pilot sites or areas are used to enable the agency to scale up. It uses them to get a feel for the implementation and to learn almost constantly as it goes through the process, for instance about how long it takes to process applications, how the system is working and any interfaces. The successful launch and delivery to date show that that learning cycle is working. It is something that features throughout the annual audit that I am involved in and it is something that we will continue to report on publicly through the annual audit process.

Colin Beattie

Auditor General, this must be a red-letter day—two positive reports in one day. I cannot remember when that last happened.

There are three areas that I would like to touch on, the first of which is the new approaches to the social security system. Paragraph 20 on page 11 refers to the introduction of the new approaches. They seem very commendable and so on. They include things such as local delivery, advocacy and multiple channels for accepting applications. However, to go back to that old favourite—data—is there any data on the use of the services and the extent to which they deliver value for money?

Stephen Boyle

To an extent, Mr Beattie. As you say, and as we set out in the report, the overarching principles that the agency has sought to implement in this approach are dignity, fairness and respect. It consciously uses the language of “clients” for service users of the social security system. We note the implementation of its approach of local delivery advocacy, which is included as part of the legislation, and the multichannel access. As we mention at paragraph 24 of the report, the agency is gathering the views of its clients and also of partner organisations about how this is working. It has also undertaken a client survey and is using that intelligence to gather feedback. Eighty per cent of people are using the services online—people are given a range of options—and 90-plus per cent of people who were asked say that they have been treated with kindness. Carole Grant might want to come in on some of the additional analysis that is being used and some of the academic research that is going on alongside some of the initial survey work.

Colin Beattie

I will intervene at that point and ask one small question. You have some percentages, for example on satisfaction. What do we compare that to? A piece of data is just a piece of data until you can measure it against something.

Stephen Boyle

You are right. Carole Grant can speak further about that. It is 90 per cent relative to what? To make data more meaningful, it has to be accompanied by trend analysis, targets and expectations. We will come on to the quantification of the impact of some of the interventions in a moment, but I will pause to see whether Carole Grant wishes to add anything.

Carole Grant

The data landscape is being developed—that is how I would describe it. The agency is collating a lot of information. We do not yet have the detailed trends, but we have been having discussions about where it would set targets. We have had numerous discussions with Social Security Scotland and it is very keen to ensure that its targets are not about time to process and things like that; that is not the system that it wants. It wants to understand how long it is taking to process claims but does not want people to feel that there is a set target that will drive behaviours in relation to how they are engaging. It is very much an on-going development not just in terms of data capture but in terms of what the data is telling it, whether it is capturing the right information, where it wants to tweak it and where it wants to gain additional information in other areas.

You mentioned value for money. That is a key principle in the social security charter, so it is something that the agency is focusing on, but not yet when it comes to assessment, and that flows through some of the messaging in the report.

Are you satisfied that the data will eventually be useful when it is developed and put together? This seems an opportunity to get the data collection right for once, as it is a new system.

Carole Grant

Yes, absolutely. You will see it flowing through the annual report and accounts and the performance report at the front. That is evolving to be much more led by the data, but it is telling the story rather than being data for data’s sake. Yes, it is almost at the point now where there is an assurance that the data that has been collected is the right information to inform the decision making as it moves forward.

Colin Beattie

The next area is the adult disability payment. Your exhibit 2 highlights the huge increases that are expected in the scale of the activity to be undertaken by Social Security Scotland. One of the areas that have been highlighted is the lack of certainty around the levels of staffing that are required to administer the adult disability payment. The lack of certainty is a risk. Given the unknown resource implications of the benefit, how confident are you that Social Security Scotland is well placed to respond to the increase in demand? What is the plan?

Stephen Boyle

I think that you are right. Carole Grant can say more about the scale of what is being proposed. The language that we use is to say that the scale of activity will

“increase hugely over the next few years.”

To illustrate that first in staffing terms, last December the agency had 1,800 staff. It expects to go up to 3,500, much of which will be driven by the adult disability payment as part of the casework that is required. The agency has a workforce plan and it is reviewing its progress in terms of full-time staff and any additional support that it might need. We know that there is a plan in place. We have seen that the agency has scaled up considerably over recent months as it gears up for the progress and transfer of responsibilities for the new benefits. A bit like we touched on in the discussion with Mr Hoy, the progress of benefits has been interrupted, and managing that in conjunction with the responsibility plus the staffing that goes beside it is the trick to pull off, but it is recognised that they have to be largely aligned as the agency gears up.

The workforce planning arrangements are in place. Carole Grant can say more about that if she wishes.

10:45  

Carole Grant

As you have mentioned, there has been large-scale recruitment, but we have seen that that has been well managed. In the report, we refer to the figure that the Auditor General mentioned of 1,800 staff at Social Security Scotland. The updated workforce statistics that were published last week show that the figure is just under 2,400 now. You can see that there is a flow and that it is being managed well. As many public sector bodies are doing at the moment, Social Security Scotland is considering what hybrid working can mean, how it can flow through the workforce and how it might change the structure. That has been taken into account. Workforce plans are being developed alongside the longer-term financial and estates planning to complete the picture.

Colin Beattie

The last area is the Scottish child payment. There has been reference made to the DWP in connection with this. You have highlighted in your report that there are huge challenges there in relation to timescales and data sharing. The extension of the payment relies on the DWP developing a new digital system and you have highlighted that there is not much space left for testing in advance of delivery, so a programme is being developed on design plans that cannot yet be tested. One of the lessons learned from the launch of the Scottish child payment for children under six was the need to plan and protect suitable time for system testing prior to implementation. Are you confident that the risk is being managed appropriately? What are the Scottish Government’s mitigation plans should the timescale slip due to circumstances outside its control? Do we have faith in the DWP managing to deliver in time?

Stephen Boyle

You will forgive me if I do not offer you categorical assurance that it is progressing. All the points that you made are right. The extension of the Scottish child payment is a significant next step. Yes, there is dependency on the DWP. As we note at paragraph 35, on the Scottish Government programme management arrangements, the Government is aware of the risk. There are regular meetings and interaction to track and monitor that progress is on track, including ministerial consultation if required. As at today, we have six months to go before this is due to be rolled out. It will be for the agency to closely track the programme. If necessary, there comes a point in any project implementation where it is better to delay than to progress with risks that go beyond tolerance level and it would be for the programme to take a view about that.

As things stand, our assessment is that the programme is managing well and is aware of the risks, but clearly there is a crucial six months ahead. Again, I will check whether Carole Grant has anything to supplement.

Carole Grant

I have no specific details. Obviously, our detailed audit work went up until the end of February. We have had on-going engagement since then and from that engagement we believe that the risks are being well managed and that the programme is a high priority.

I have no doubt that you will be reporting back on the implementation in due course.

Stephen Boyle

Yes. Just to give the committee that assurance, this is one of a series of reports that we have produced on the implementation of social security. Given its significance both in fiscal terms and as part of the roll-out of the devolved powers from the Scotland Act 2016, it is very much in our thoughts to continue offering assurance to the committee.

Willie Coffey

Could you talk to us a wee bit more about the systems development aspect of this? You will recall—and members will recall—that, at the outset of this project, which was in the previous session of Parliament, there were some concerns about the software systems development side of it, because of our previous experiences. It is fair to say that this project has gone particularly well. The Agile methodology has been deployed. Although it was deployed in another area that you mentioned and was not so successful, this one has gone very well. It is so complex. Can you unpick why this particular methodology and this particular project have gone so well compared to predecessors that we have other experience of?

Stephen Boyle

I am happy to do that, Mr Coffey. There comes a point when you have to move on, and I would recognise that that is appropriate. In the roll-out of public systems in Scotland, Agile has not always been looked on favourably and has not always gone well, but that is not the case with this approach. The Agile methodology, as distinct from Waterfall, which is the other methodology, looks to have been the right choice by the Scottish Government for the roll-out of this system. To reiterate the point, this is a very complex process to get right, with very significant benefits that people rely on. That is what we have seen so far.

When it comes to the reasons behind that, there has been learning from previous approaches and we have seen that being brought into place. The right leadership and the right skills are in place. It is also important— Carole Grant can touch on all these points if she wishes—that there are assurance arrangements in place. We are not seeing a competitive environment between the programme and the agency with sharing of information, and the interaction between the agency and the DWP is right. Much of that is so important—not just the executive competence and transfer but the implementation, which has to be seamless for the clients of the agency. We are seeing all those components in place.

The point about Agile is that there is a trade-off. You recognise through the progress of implementation that you are not done and that there are system management, maintenance and IT requirements to revisit. I have spoken previously to the committee about the concept of technical debt and the fact that there are sacrifices. To progress, you have to go back and address those over the years. There are still things to be done with the methodology, but certainly there has been a distinct change from previous reporting on the approach. I do not know whether I have covered everything.

Carole Grant

I think that you have. The expertise that exists in the programme has been very important for the successful delivery. Another aspect is the agreement between the programme and Social Security Scotland that the prioritisation would on the elements that would impact on service user experience. Having that clarity about where the prioritisation lay in the development of the system and the interaction between the clients and the system has ensured that they have been on the same page throughout. That has helped with the successful delivery so far.

Willie Coffey

It is good practice for software development and software engineering to deliver what the client actually wants, and no more. It is a crucial feature of Agile that you do not do more than you need to.

Stephen Boyle, you have mentioned a few times that there are trade-offs with that particular methodology, so there may be parts of the system development that have been set aside. Will we ever need to implement them? Are the solutions that we are getting now likely to be permanent solutions or will we keep having to backtrack and improve and develop and so on and so forth as the project develops?

Stephen Boyle

The agency will need to take a view on that through its system maintenance and on-going development. Clearly, there are still more benefits to be rolled out, so we are not yet in a stable environment in terms of how all the system components interact and what needs to be maintained. Inevitably, technological developments and system changes might make redundant some of the requirements of the system that have been set aside at the moment. It is complex, and it is difficult to be definitive about the extent to which all that matters.

It is perhaps worth emphasising what we say in the report about the overall cost of implementation. The Government has referred to a figure of £685 million. That does not include any of the additional on-going maintenance around Agile for some of the components that have been set aside for the time being. If those requirements arise, there will be costs beyond that and it will be for the agency to arrive at and assess what that means in financial terms.

Finally, are the IT systems that are to come of the same order of complexity in terms of design and so on, or is what will be required to complete the benefits system even more technically challenging?

Stephen Boyle

I will ask Carole Grant to pick that up. I think it is shades of grey, to be frank. None of this is straightforward or simple. There are so many interdependencies. As for the extent to which the next iteration of the roll-out of the system will be more or less complex—I suspect that it will be largely similar. It matters so much that they get it right. Carole Grant can speak to any material differentiation.

Carole Grant

In discussions about what would be the most complex benefit to deliver, and which case loads would be a challenge, the adult disability payment was always held up as an example. I would not want to commit to it entirely, but I think we are at that point in the complexity in the system and it will now be more about learning going forward.

You asked about the need for all the technical aspects to be addressed. That comes back to the point about data that we were talking about earlier. The client’s interaction with the system is such an important element of it, but Social Security Scotland is also looking at what data it wants to get out of the system. There may be processes where, at the moment, there is a manual intervention or a manual process being used that would be more efficient if it were done directly from the system. All that is taken into account, as the Auditor General said, in terms of that balance between where the improvements lie and which ones are actioned.

Will you continue to monitor the development as it goes forward?

Carole Grant

Yes. It is a core part of the audit of Social Security Scotland and it flows through our annual audit report each year.

Sharon Dowey

Programme implementation costs are now an estimated £685 million to 2025-26, compared to the £308 million set out in the 2017 financial memorandum. The report also highlights that implementation costs are not being routinely reported on publicly, which clearly makes financial scrutiny particularly difficult.

In your opening statement, you mentioned some of the costs being higher than the block grant and I think that Carole Grant said earlier that there was strong internal monitoring of the costs, even though they were not put out publicly. To your knowledge, what action is the Scottish Government taking to improve the accuracy of future cost estimates?

Stephen Boyle

Good morning, deputy convener. I will start, then Carole Grant can come in on all those points as she wishes. Exhibit 5 to the report sets out the change since the 2017 financial memorandum of the anticipated costs of the delivery of the programme. Those have changed substantially. We started at a figure of £308 million, which moved to £651 million in 2020 and the most recent update is at £685 million. It is very clear that this is not a case of costs spiralling out of control. It is much more an example of the scale and scope of the project changing as the understanding of what is required has changed. The additional staffing costs, which we have touched on already, and managing the volume of the case load are key factors, as well as the expansion of the extent of the benefits anticipated—all those are more of the story.

It is the case, however, that the costs have not been routinely reported and that has reduced the extent of transparency and scrutiny available to the Parliament and users of the service. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, it is positive that there will be an updated business case. We welcome that and expect to see as a regular feature through the continuation of the project that that can be sufficiently tracked and monitored.

You also mentioned fiscal sustainability. As the roll-out of the benefits increases, the Scottish Government will be funding much of that from its own resources, so there is a divergence and therefore policy choices and priorities that the Government’s and the Parliament’s consideration of the budget will look to make, based on the SFC’s most recent estimates. There are variables, and I think that even the SFC acknowledges in its report that these are forecasts, not necessarily predictions. There are, however, huge sums of money involved and that will influence the priorities that the Government will have to manage in its overall management of the fiscal position of the Scottish budget. The impact of some of the interventions through the new social security system may be longer term. All that makes the overall management and balancing of Scotland’s budget more complicated. Again, I will invite Carole Grant to add anything further that she wants to add.

Carole Grant

As the Auditor General said in relation to exhibit 5, on the programme implementation costs, it is very clear that the initial estimate was based on high-level assumptions. We have seen the understanding of the programme scope develop alongside the timescales being extended, partly as a response to the pandemic. Also, Scotland-specific benefits were introduced that did not necessarily feature in the original cost assessment. The cost of case transfer was not clear in the initial estimate and is now included.

The £685 million that we quote is the estimate at the point at which we were doing our work but, until the full programme business case is published later in the year, we will not know whether that figure will move with the work that is on-going.

Has the Scottish Government committed to publishing the implementation costs for the new benefits?

11:00  

Stephen Boyle

We expect that that will be covered by the programme business case when it is published later in the year. We welcome that additional publication, its transparency and, importantly, that it affords visibility and scrutiny of the project’s costs as it progresses.

Sharon Dowey

One of the risks identified in relation to staff is the increasing reliance on contractors. You note that the programme is clear that it wants to ensure knowledge transfer from contractor staff to permanent employees and for this to support growth of their staffing specialist areas. To your knowledge, what concrete action is being taken in this regard?

Carole Grant

We have seen evidence that there are arrangements in place. The risk is recognised, and the extension of the timeline because of the pandemic gave a little bit of space for the agency to take stock. I cannot remember the specific name of the programme, but one has been set up—I can provide it after the meeting. There are definitely solid arrangements in place to ensure knowledge transfer because it is seen as such an important area by the programme and by the Scottish Government.

You mentioned earlier that staffing numbers had increased from 1,800 to around 2,400. Are they all direct employees of Social Security Scotland or is that a headcount that includes contractor staff?

Carole Grant

I am sure from the statistics—it was only last week that they came out—that it is employees of Social Security Scotland, but I will check the publication and confirm that.

Is it full-time equivalent? It would be useful to understand that.

Carole Grant

Yes, it is.

The Convener

Our last question is about the impact on outcomes, which, in the end, is what this has to be about. The Scottish Government has stated that the three principle objectives in rolling out the Scottish child payment are, first, to reduce child poverty by at least 3 per cent; secondly, to make sure that the payment gets to those who need it the most, not just those that would help the Government get over the line of meeting targets, such as that over 3 per cent figure; and, thirdly, to try to bring about a sustainable and lasting reduction in poverty in those families that are below the poverty line. We are interested in understanding whether the current performance measurement frameworks are fit for that purpose and whether they are sufficiently resourced. Is there capacity in the system to properly measure those targets?

Stephen Boyle

I think it is something of a halfway house at the moment, convener. I will refer to a number of points. The Government has not yet set out its formal strategy for how it will evaluate the impact of the benefits and that matters to address the outcomes of the Scottish system of social security. That needs to happen to complete the overall picture. You are quite right about the three criteria for the Scottish child payment and there is much commentary on the progress, or the anticipated progress, towards the Scottish child payment targets. Yesterday, for example, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children published a joint report on some of the implementation and the risks present towards meeting the interim child poverty targets. For the committee’s awareness, Audit Scotland will produce a briefing paper in the autumn on progress towards child poverty targets and there will be an opportunity to update the committee further at that point.

Overall, as with all aspects of public spending, it matters that evaluation is anticipated at the start and we have seen that. There is a distinct picture here. It is part of the agency’s and the Government’s thinking as they evaluate the roll-out of the benefits, but there are still some steps to be taken as part of the overall strategy.

The Convener

At that point I would like to draw this session to a close and thank you, Auditor General and Carole Grant, for your input. I am quite sure that Social Security Scotland and its performance is something that the Public Audit Committee will continue to have under its watch. Thank you both very much indeed.

11:07 Meeting continued in private until 11:33.