Outsourcing companies such as Atos will feel short changed after the new benefits assessment scheme was introduced in Scotland last week as it takes no account of private companies having any role in the system at all.
Reported in the Scotsman and elsewhere, the Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) are expecting the newly-devolved benefits to build around 1500 jobs when fully up and running but none of these will be outside the public sector.
Precedent from the rest of the UK
From the outside, it looks a lot as though the MSPs have taken a look at some of the difficulties (and indeed the resultant coverage) experienced by companies including Atos in the UK. Contracts with that organisation were singled out by the public accounts committee in the House of Commons, which said it struggled to reach delivery targets. American firm Maximus also finds itself shut out of the new contracts.
It is perhaps instructive to consider that the criticisms from the PAC over various outsourcing instances have concerned not only the private firms themselves but the oversight of them by an ill-equipped and inexperienced Civil Service, which has left private companies unguided. It is important to bear in mind that if the queried contracts were the UK government’s first drafts of how outsourcing might work, they were an initial attempt for the companies involved as well.
The Scottish parliament has clearly taken the decision that benefits assessment needs to remain in public hands, although whether it has done so because it is appropriate or due to political predisposition is open to question. The new agency will cost around £150m per year, it will handle £2.8m benefits per year and although there will be some sort of as-yet-unspeficied central base its operations will be distributed around the country.