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Scottish social security agency criticised over staff travel spending

A freedom of information request by the Scottish Conservatives shows more than £70,000 was spent on travel in six months.

Train tickets (Yui Mok/PA)
Train tickets (Yui Mok/PA)

Tens of thousands of pounds has been spent in just six months by Scotland’s new social security agency to pay for staff travel, according to official figures.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Scottish Conservatives shows that between September 1 last year and February 28 2019, a total of £72,650 was spent by Social Security Scotland to cover travel costs.

It includes a spend of £45,508 on rail travel, £13,833 on hired or leased vehicles, and a sum of £5,141 on air travel.

Additionally, £5,001 was spent under a category including motor mileage, with £2,194 filed under miscellaneous travel and £973 spent on travel by taxi.

Scottish Conservative MSP Michelle Ballantyne described the spend as “extraordinary”.

Ms Ballantyne said: “This is an extraordinary large amount to spend on travel in such a short period of time.

“Social Security Scotland hasn’t even started administering any benefits yet they are spending tens of thousands of pounds on staff transport.

“With the SNP admitting that they won’t even have the capability to handle social security payments until 2024, you have to question why this amount is so high.

“It’s already embarrassing enough for the SNP that they have had to ask the DWP to continue delivering these powers on their behalf for another five years.

“Now the organisation they set up for social security payments is racking up a huge bill despite not having even begun to carry out their main function.”

A spokeswoman for Social Security Scotland said the agency started delivering benefits last September and had made a “significant” amount in payments.

Travel costs are projected to account for less than 1% of overall operating expenditure in 2018-19.

The spokeswoman said: “We are building a new national public service and face-to-face communication with local authorities, stakeholders and most importantly the public is necessary.

“We have been delivering benefits since September 2018 and in those seventh months, in excess of 77,000 people have benefited from £197 million in payments through Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Allowance Supplement and Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payments.

“We have staff travelling the length and breadth of the country to promote our benefits and establish our local service.

“We have established a head office in Dundee and a major site in Glasgow and now have over 400 staff.

“We are also working closely with the Scottish Government who are building the social security system we will administer and the Department for Work and Pensions.”

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