Local MSP David Stewart, Labour has accused Derek Mackay,the Finance Secretary in the Scottish Government of using ‘weasel words’ in a reply about how many jobs would come to the Highlands and Islands as a result of the new Scottish social security agency.
In response to a question from David Stewart, Derek Mackay said that “400 locally based jobs” would be the first stage of recruitment for the new Social Security Scotland agency and “jobs will be located across Scotland”.
However, when Mr Stewart then lodged a Parliamentary Question about how many “locally based jobs” would come to each local authority area in the Highlands and Islands, Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Social Security Secretary, admitted there were just two.
David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the first stage of recruitment of 400 locally-based jobs in Social Security Scotland, how many will be based in the Highlands and Islands, broken down by local authority area.
Shirley-Anne Somerville: Nineteen Local Delivery Relationship Leads have been recruited to date, with two of these people to be based in the Highlands and Islands. One will be located in the Highlands and one in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. While some Local Authorities, including Orkney and Shetland, will not have a Local Delivery Relationship Lead based in their area they will have a designated Lead. The Leads will meet regularly and work closely with Local Authorities and other public and third sector organisations to develop a service that is appropriate to the needs of the community.
The Local Delivery Relationship Leads will also build on the existing relationships Social Security Scotland officials have established, including those in the Highlands and Islands. Their role will be to plan for the local presence for frontline services ahead of the recruitment of further staff who will provide pre-claims advice and support as more benefits are delivered. In the interim where a person wants face-to-face support, arrangements will be made to meet this need.
David Stewart said:
“I feel Mr Mackay was indeed using weasel words in his original letter as it wasn’t clear where the jobs would be and how local they would be and now he has been caught out.
“More jobs should be dispersed across the Highlands and Islands but despite the Scottish Government’s smoke and mirrors replies, it is clear it only want jobs in the Central Belt.
“It’s no wonder people in more remote and rural areas feel they are being short-changed by the Government who talk a good talk but fail to deliver.”
Mr Stewart first wrote to the Finance Secretary after a Caithness constituent raised the question of how few jobs were being dispersed to the area from the Central Belt and the loss of skilled workers to the community.
The woman particularly queried how many would come to Caithness and Sutherland with the creation of the new Social Security Scotland agency which is based in Dundee and Glasgow. The Scottish Government agency is to deal with devolved benefits.
In his reply Mr Mackay said: “In April the first stage of recruitment for at least 400 locally based jobs with Social Security Scotland was launched.
“These jobs will be located across Scotland and generate employment opportunities which will reach into all parts of the country including the Caithness and Sutherland area.”