Proposal for independent Scotland to share UK welfare system admin to 2020+

Yesterday’s one of the Scottish Government’s working groups reported its recommendations.

On the basis of the fact that much but not all of the processing of UK welfare payments for Scotland is done in Scotland and that 20% of UK pension payments are processed here, the working group proposes that it would be in the  interests of both countries to continue to share this administration system from a formal independence in 2016 for at least four years to 2020.

The Scottish Government described the proposal as ‘sensible’ and immediately accepted it. The UK Government’s Scottish Secretary described the proposal as ‘not credible’.

The positives in this situation are that an independent Scotland:

  • would save recruiting costs to service welfare administration since staff and expertise already exist
  • would save set up costs since the offices and equipment are already there
  • would mean no immediate risk of transition glitches in much of Scotland’s welfare payments.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement of the working group’s recommendations and reassured Scots that this would mean so seamless a transition in welfare payments that no one would notice any difference.

The problem here was that under repeated questioning, Ms Sturgeon had to admit that this had not yet been discussed with the UK government, so it is far from being a certain transition arrangement.

The UK scenario

It does, though, underline the fact that a decision in September 2014 by Scotland to separate from the Union will compel the continuing UK to suffer costs it would not otherwise incur.

Given that the UK has complex work to do in supporting the return to growth of its economy, such transition costs and the accompanying upheavals will be untimely and unwelcome – but that would be of no great concern to Scotland.

It does mean that the continuing UK will not be in a position to do anything but look after its own interests first – that is its duty to its continuing electorate.

So, should the proposed arrangements seem to the UK to be cost effective in its own interests, this proposal would be agreed. However:

  • The UK owns the software and the databases.
  • It has its own welfare processing establishments which handle an unspecified volume and type of payments to Scots.
  • It processes 80% of its own pension payments already – which means that it has the systems in place for the remaining 20% and needs only some more staff to cover that extra work.
  • It will have job losses in the demerger of other administrative systems.
  • It has to be questionable that the continuing UK would wish to leave 20% of its pension processing in the hands of what would be a foreign country and one with a lot on its hands.

It would arguably be in the interests of the continuing UK to execute the demerger of welfare processing as soon as possible. Jobs lost in other demerged administrative areas could be switched to fill the additional need at welfare.

Where that decision would mean job losses in Scotland in welfare administration – a matter which the Deputy First Minister avoided answering on Newsnight Scotland last night -  this would nevertheless not present Scotland with any difficulty.

One certain outcome of independence is that Scotland would require a vastly swollen public sector to replicate the systems we currently share as a member of the UK. So jobs lost in welfare would immediately be replaced in  a variety of other new public sector employment.

The downside here is that although employment in this sector would grow substantially, so would the proportion of Scotland’s budget spent on economically unproductive services.

Sharing welfare administration – the problems

The cost of this proposal for both countries would be a serious limitation on introducing changes to welfare policy in a shared system.

Recoding the software to apply different criteria and rates to recipients in each country would be far from simple and would almost certainly produce serial errors.

The expert academic view, from engaged staff at Edinburgh and Stirling universities on Newsnight last night, is that a shared system could carry on for a while but that any changes to the welfare regimes made by either country could not seriously be substantive and would be no more than marginal.

This negates until 2020 at least the introduction of the promised additional and enhanced benefits promised by the Scottish Government.

Sharing would equally limit the continuing UK’s latitude to change its welfare policy – and with this area a current subject of reform at Westminster, that limitation would a substantial obstruction to UK agreement to this proposal.

The serious problem, which would have to be implemented and in operation from Day 1, would be the recoding of the IT system to draw the costs of the actual welfare payments from the two paymasters involved, because each would, of course, pay their own way.

This factor might also impact on the decision by the continuing UK to engage in the proposed temporary part-share or not. The additional costs of this recoding to divert, record and total up payments to one paymaster or the other and the attendant risks of destabilising the operation of the system – all for a short term transition – might not seem worthwhile.

Paying for welfare

It is important to keep distinct the administration of welfare systems and the capacity to pay for the benefits they distribute.

Yesterday, the Deputy First Minister insisted that Scotland would find its welfare costs more bearable than would the UK because we have a lower ratio of welfare costs to Gross Domestic Product [GDP] – our national earnings.

This is correct but marginal.

The 2011 figures show that the GDP of the UK a whole was £1,509.6 BN. The Scottish Government’s estimate of what an independent Scotland’s GDP would have been in 2011 was £124 BN – or £150 BN, after including Scotland’s share of UK extra-regio activity and Scotland’s share of UK oil and gas revenues.

Assuming that the true Scottish GDP for 2011 would therefore have been the higher figure of £150BN and with Scotland’s total spend on Welfare [£8.1 BN] and Pensions [£12.7BN] in that year of £20.8 BN, the ratio of welfare spend to GDP for Scotland in 2011 is 13.86%.

Subtracting from the UK 2011 GDP of £1,509.6BN the Scottish Government’s estimated Scottish share of extra-regio activity [£3 BN] and of oil and gas revenues for that year [£23 BN]  – a total of £26 BN, produces a UK-minus-Scotland 2011 GDP of £1,483.6.

Then, subtracting Scotland’s 2011 total spend of £20.8 BN on Welfare and Pensions from the UK overall total spend  of £232.9 BN in these categories – leaving a UK-minus-Scotland total spend of £212.1 BN – produces a ratio of welfare spend to GDP of 14.29% – as opposed to Scotland’s  13.86%.

Welfare and pensions spend as proportion of annual budget

The other issue is the ratio of the total welfare and pensions spend to total budget.

Here in 2011, the total UK public spending budget was £689.2 BN. Scotland’s total budget was £53.1 BN. This leaves a UK-minus-Scotland total budget at £636.1 BN.

In 2011 the total UK spend on Pensions and Welfare was £232.9 BN. Scotland’s alone was £20.8 BN. This leaves a UK-minus-Scotland total spend on this sector of £212.1 BN.

The ratio of spend on Welfare and Pensions to total annual budget for the UK-minus-Scotland in 2011 is therefore 33.34%. For Scotland the ratio is 39.25%, a significantly higher percentage.

The expert opinion last night from the academics from Edinburgh University [Nicola McEwen] and Stirling [David Bell]  was that Scotland would struggle to afford its welfare payments unless it could sustain significant economic growth.

With swollen public sector costs to sustain duplicated administrative systems across the spectrum, and with oil revenues [as we have recently shown] immediately swallowed up to pay the interest on our legitimate share of the national debt, driving and sustaining economic growth will be a considerable challenge.

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35 Responses to Proposal for independent Scotland to share UK welfare system admin to 2020+

  1. It doesn’t follow that because processing and jobs are done in Scotland that it makes it a Scottish system.

    Thats like saying a back office function outsourced to India is an indian system which they can use for whatever purpose. Its a contract to operate a process designed and owned by someone else that is backed by a much bigger infrastructure and that can be relocated at any time.

    It is a UK welfare payments system and is in Scotland because Scotland is in the UK. Why would the UK want to continue with its welfare payments system in a foreign country – it may as well export the processing jobs to India at that point and save a heap of cash. Or put them in Northumberland or the North East of England to generate jobs in those areas.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 8

  2. There is one aspect that I have not seen mentioned about splitting assets (and liabilities) in the event of independence. It is reasonable that a proportion of assets (and liabilities) should be transferred to an independent Scotland but is it fair that the taxpayers in the rest of the UK should pay for all the costs in separating out those assets (which could be quite a substantial amount in many cases).

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 8

    • “is it fair that the taxpayers in the rest of the UK should pay for all the costs in separating out those assets”
      asked Lundavra.

      Exactly – good shout. If I live in Wales, didn’t ask for this change, was given no say in whether or not it should happen, then that makes a strong argument for saying ‘No’ – I shouldn’t pick up the tab for any of these consequential costs.

      Whoever pays – one thing’s for sure: The lawyers would earn big-time.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 9

    • I wouldn’t disagree with that at all. Costs associated with restructuring will have to fall in Scotland’s lap.

      With that in mind it is not surprising that Nicola Sturgeon hardly gave herself time to draw breath before saying she welcomed the conclusion recommending continues sharing of welfare services.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 10

      • That conclusion – ‘to continue sharing’- is only worth anything if both parties agree to share. And there is no sign that the rest of the UK would find anything in this that would benefit them. So why would they agree to share?

        With that in mind, I think Jerry McIver nails it in comment #1 above. Why would England and Wales want all their DWP administration services done in a foreign country? What do they gain? Can it be done better and cheaper in a different foreign country? Or somewhere else in the rUK, like the north-west of England, or south Wales?

        These decisions will – on both sides – be hard-nosed, with little room for sentiment. Inevitably.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 9

        • All mod jobs in Scotland all DVL jobs in Scotland all NInsurance jobs in Scotland all Inland revenue jobs in Scotland All govt jobs in Scotland

          Looking better already.

          Do you think on reflection the other side might wish to negotiate?

          What a bunch of cowards and mealy mouthed miseries you UKip better together party supporters are. Makes me wonder why you remain in Scotland

          Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 13

          • what a pathetic statement “Makes me wonder why you remain in Scotland” maybe you should feck off to europe as you support little fat salmonds EU federal state UKM.

            Fat salmond and his parcel of rogues will not tell us his euro vision for scotland but bluffs it off by saying we will decide that after the vote, what a joke!

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  3. So what happened to Salmond’s and Sturgeon’s strident claims that all the apparatus of the new State would be easily set up between a Yes vote and “independence” day……18 months.

    Turns out to be yet more nationalist fantasy dreams in their desperate efforts to shepherd us into their land of milk and honey.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 13

    • NEWSIE

      Isn’t Keith McM on the offensive borderline !–in his disagreement with H20 and the world generally in the post above.
      His inappropriate use of language, his hatred of Alex Salmond First Minister and continued “fatism” remarks is repeated consistently through is blog’s.

      I was also taught to “never hate a person but disagree with their views by force of argument” but his diatribe to H20 to ” f… out of Scotland” is the type of attitude shown to immigrants by UKIP and their ilk. Ironic as I believe H20 is a Scot but is inappropriate to any person living in Scotland.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

      • Dougie: LOL can you tell me is Alex Salmond fat? Can you provide proof that I indeed hate Alex? (or are you making an assumption from reading text?) I do hate what Alex Salmond control of the SNP is doing to my country (funny he has made smokers leopards in this country yet he will not address obesity)
        As for my statement to H20 did he not make the remark “Makes me wonder why you remain in Scotland?” so my counter of him moving to Europe is fair!
        How you can find my view of the world as offensive is actually a joke! How do you know my view? We have never spoken of it! But perhaps you enjoy being a consumer in the eyes of our corporate slavery system rather than a living sentiment man living in a world of abundance?
        Or are you trying to hold me to your view of society? Can you provide my social contract with my wet signed signature? Can you even provide the simple document stating the rules, benefits, duties and privileges along with the name of the society?
        I can’t talk for UKIP but I find your interpretation of them very offensive, from what I have seen about them is they have the guts to talk about immigration and from what I have seen in England I think they are right to bring the issue to the table, Just like the Scottish people have the right to know the direction salmond and his Party wish to take our country

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

        • You know you were personal re Alex Salmond (also in previous posts) and stating that H20 should “..f off” is inappropriate. Your justification is not justified.

          Your previous posts to H20 and others was that they should leave the country is also intolerant despite the fact that the response back “Makes me wonder why you remain in Scotland?” is a question posed so your comment that “ counter of him moving to Europe is fair..” as you forgot to mention the comment made by you in the post to “f… off to Europe”.

          Most reasonable commentators would agree with me that your comments are inappropriate.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  4. The division of assets and liabilities will involve a trade off whereby some issues will be of mutual interest and others more beneficial to one government than the other.

    Transitional arrangements will be required. Despite all the bluster and petulance of the Unionist mob, it will cost the RUK dear so they will negotiate once the referendum has been carried.

    The various systems in Scotland and the RUK will gradually change as each government develops different policies required by it’s electorate. Eg, current SNP policy is to move to a system of citizens’ income which replaces a separate benefits system, and much more efficient to operate and requires less public sector staff to operate.

    Presumably the RUK will not want to be lumbered with paying Scottish benefits so it is in it’s interests to cooperate that the separation of recipients is undertaken.

    Don’t let the process of Independence sour your creative juices and the excitement of developing and considering new public service delivery. Independence is a wonderful opportunity to do things differently and better.

    Embrace change don’t fear it!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 15

    • Graeme – could you give more detail on the Citizens Income proposal? We must have missed that one but would be interested to know more about how it would work.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 8

      • Citizen’s Income is designed to provide a guaranteed minimum income for all. It replaces the current ‘portfolio’ of benefit payments and is a tax-free payment. It is basically an unconditional hand out (i.e. not means tested in any way). I think the idea is that it would be tied to the personal allowance amount meaning that everyone earns that and then every penny you make through employment is fully subject to PAYE (rather than you having the personal allowance taking out of your income.

        It has been pushed hard by the Green Party who see it as a way of getting people out of poverty and reducing benefit fraud.

        At face value it does seem a extraordinarily expensive venture however you do need to consider how much money would also be saved in eradicating the need for the extraordinarily complex benefit scheme currently operating in the UK.

        One of the weaker arguments put forward is that it allows greater flexibility for people to opt in or out of the labour market. I am not convinced that is a flexibility that it is healthy to actively encourage.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

    • 1. The UK would have to be paid to administer benefits or provide any other service.
      2. Any attempt to introduce more fairness into legislation inevitably involves more complexity.
      3. Scotland has a very high proportion of public service employees. This is the first time I have heard that it is SNP policy to find efficiences and make a lot of staff redundant ! ( Graeme says that the citizens’ income would be ” much more efficient to operate and require less public sector staff.)
      I’m sorry Graeme this is more wishful thinking, totalling lacking in detail and uncosted.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 10

      • Means testing involves more complexity that’s why it is difficult to understand Westminster parties and Scottish labour wish to pursue this.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

    • “embrace change don’t fear it” LOL only an idiot/ fool would rush into this change

      Salmond is nothing more than a EU puppet and he is leading the blind into a euro state with the illusion of independence
      the Pro independence bunch in scotland are dreaming of bringing out the walace, but cant see independence under salmond is bringing out the Gimp

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

  5. Interesting that the editor leaps to the perjorative assumption that an Independent Scotland would have a “vastly swollen public sector”. The implication being that the UK’s current public sector is the paragon of efficiency, and wee Scotland is bound to be less efficient. This flys in the face of fact. Who in their right mind would call the MOD efficient. HMRC spends £5-6Billion a year presiding over one of the(if not the)most complex tax codes in the world. The Home office has been described by UK Goverment ministers as “not fit for purpose” the UKBA has rooms full of unactioned case files. should I go on, or is the point made?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7

    • Your prejudices are showing, Ian – you’re making stereotypical assumptions about who we are and what we think – and you could not be further off the mark.
      We have been- for very good reason, highly and persistently critical of the UK departments you instance.
      But this is a different issue.
      Saying that a vastly swollen public sector – which an independent Scotland will certainly have – is not saying that that sector would be inefficient.
      It is saying that it would leave us no further on than we are now, in the Union – despite the huge cost it will inflict. And it would be unproductive, unnecessary and a weighty drag on achieving economic growth.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 11

      • Dear Newsroom

        Where in my comment have I made a “stereotypical assumption”? I quoted your assumption which you again state with no justification. The Scottish Government has said they will follow, if reelected in a newly independent Scotland, the example of other newly independent nations and in the near term greatly simplify the benefits and tax system (which wouldn’t be difficult given their labyrinthine complexity). There are numerous international examples of the success of this approach. They will maintain Universality so there will be no means testing. Your assumption predicates Scotland will construct a mini copy of the bloated UK system, which incidentally is a classic Unionist (deliberate) failing. We can look to examples in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark for example where government administration and public sector employment are mixed effectively with the private sector to deliver highly successful economies. Much more succesful economies than the one Scotland is currently part of.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

        • Dear Newsroom

          Further to my comment above. I have just checked and Scottish public sector spending and employment has consistently improved since the current Scottish Government came to power in 2007. Scottish public employment is still higher in Scotland than the UK but it is at 23% versus 21% for the UK as a whole (if the nationalised banks are excluded). Public spending however is now better at 43% in Scotland versus 45.5% for the UK as a whole.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

          • Your comparison of Scotland’s public spending with that of the UK as a whole is invalid because the figure for the UK as a whole includes Scotland’s – and Scotland receives a greater per capita allocation that does any other part of the UK.
            In the comparative financial and budgetary figures we have given we properly disaggregated Scotland’s spending from the UK’s as a whole, so that we were able to compare Scotland’s performance with that of what would be the continuing UK’s.
            Disaggregation would make a difference to your figures but, without having done these calculations ourselves, we cannot say what the degree of difference would be.
            And, by the way, there is no political point in this whatsoever – this is purely about sound statistical procedure.
            In terms of performance, we have always held that THE key resource of the present Scottish Government – and indeed of he present Scottish Parliament – is John Swinney.
            There are two issues of general concern related to Mr Swinney.
            He presented a confidential paper to the Scottish cabinet [which was leaked], showing that there are serious questions as to whether an independent Scotland could afford the current level of state pensions. No one should dismiss or fluff around with conclusions made by the Finance Secretary, whom we believe to be the possessor of genuine integrity and competence. If he says it is a matter of concern, it IS a matter of concern. He has managed Scotland’s finances soundly and well and has done so through bad times.
            The second matter of concern related to Mr Swinney is the progressive transfer of much of his authority on his specialist areas of expertise to the Deputy First Minister – as with infrastructure and investment.
            This is producing two damaging consequences:
            - financial and economic facts are now being generally politicised to support a ‘Yes’ vote for independence – an irresponsible and dangerous tactic which is replicated elsewhere in government. Just once and, relatively, some time ago, Mr Swinney was seduced into a daft piece of politicised and misleading presentation of the financial facts. He quickly retired from such adventures and has otherwise stayed silent, avoiding playing politics with the monetary and economic realities;
            - the grasp of fiscal and economic strategy is much weaker in the hands of Ms Sturgeon.
            John Swinney is the canary down the mine. Should there come a point where he starts manipulating the realities for his party’s political advantage, we will know both the depth of internal desperation at the progress of the independence prospectus; and that he has been heavily pressured to throw everything, even integrity, into the ring in a Custer’s last stand.
            We hope this never happens, because whatever decision Scotland makes next September, we all need to be able to trust this particular minister without question.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

        • The rates of tax and welfare spending in Scandanavian countries are both eye watering. Despite what the SNP would have you believe, you can’t have one without the other. By all means promise a better welfare system, but be honest about it and explain that it will have to be paid for.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

        • This bizarre notion that an independent Scotland ought to share a welfare system with the remains of the UK is yet another SNP ruse to attempt to reassure the electorate that nothing much will change if they vote ‘yes’ next year. The SNP know full well that an independent Scotland would be hard pressed to afford the country’s welfare commitments, which would swallow up most of the much-vaunted oil revenues they expect to get. The recent ‘leak’ of John Swinney’s doubts about the affordability of the state pension under an independent regime has effectively confirmed this lie, and has pulled the rug from any possibility of a ‘yes’ vote.
          They know well that even the tiniest hint that the state pension might be under threat under a Scottish government would wipe them out next year. That is why they have come up with this nonsense about a UK wide welfare system. It is time the Nats stopped trying to pull the political wool over the eyes of the electorate. In doing so they are insulting the intelligence of their own folk who will no doubt have the sense to remain within the union.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  6. Citizens Income – nice idea but it would put too many Civil Servants on the dole – not likely to happen is it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  7. Dear Newsroom

    John Swinney is indeed a key resource. He presented an options paper (as any good Finance Secretary would) to the Scottish Cabinet over 18 months ago but this was leaked on the day the latest GERS numbers were published a couple of months ago, as a deliberate spoiler because the Unionist camp knew the GERS numbers would (once again) be very favourable to the Yes campaign.
    One point you ignore is that he used OBR projections in his options paper and in particular their pessimistic Oil and Gas forecasts. We (and the SG) now know the OBR is not very good at Oil and Gas forecasts. They appear to be “behind the curve” which is convenient for the UK Government’s position of talking down future offshore potential.
    This is a position that will become clearer over the next 9-10 months when the next GERS annual analysis is produced.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  8. George Galloway MP did a fantastic job on BBC Question Time last night exposing the hate which lies at the root of the nationalist campaign to break up Great Britain .

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 11

    • George Galloway talked over everyone including Lesley Riddoch. Where was the hate in her? I didn’t see any hate in Angus Robertson either. Both made the point that we want to live in a country where inequality is deplored and the system seeks to reduce it, as in the Scandinavian countries. Lesley Riddoch pointed out inequality in the UK is now at unprecedented levels and there is no prospect of Westminster reversing it. You don’t mention that George Galloway then went on to defend the indefensible dictator President Assad.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  9. The Chancer from Dundee that had to leave the Labour party but of course now llives in London and Portugal . In fairness we were lucky he wasn’t crawling on all fours dressed in a cat suit licking feet. The supporter of Sudam and now Syria. Isley you do keep some strange bedfellows Galloway and Farage. Are you not embarassed?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 10

    • H20: and who are your bedfellows? Guess you support fake wars (Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan) guess you’re happy to send our young kids to “Banker” wars, bring them back as injured and disabled people, then you can make yourself feel good by donating to help for hero’s just have a look how your government treats returning soldiers (cast them aside)
      5 Countries would not join the IMF Central banking fraud! Can you guess who they are? Here is a clue (Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea and Iran) your tax money at work LOL 2 down 3 to go.
      Millions of people killed for banker and company profits, thousands of our kids dead or disabled by these banker wars you support by default, well done you!!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 9

  10. Hi Keith

    To answer your points – my bedfellow not bedfellows is my wife

    No against Iraq war – illegal in my view and UK government lied to the public.

    As for the other wars you seem to giving me credit. Thanks but no thanks.
    I believe that the UK as a foreign policy decision will support the US policy of the day whatever that is and will make the excuses up as it goes along.
    Nor should we support the corrupt financial institution that is in London.

    Hope this clarifies

    I wish to see a social democratic independent Scotland

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 6

    • H20: see you are a magnet for thumbs down LOL
      Think you have helped to clarify some opinions I had about you, But the Iraq war was legal the same as every war the bankers and globalist will set up
      Legal and illegal is a system of law created by empire (statute law= law of control) but I understand the meaning of the word within your use of the word. The war is actually unlawful (taken from common law= justice the peoples law)
      Have you got some info on this “social democratic independent Scotland”? Sounds like the system forced on us already I would be more for a free trade republic

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

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