Margaret Burgess MSP

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Margaret Burgess MSP

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  • Member for: Cunninghame South
  • Region: West Scotland
  • Party: Scottish National Party

Margaret is a member of the following Committees:

Margaret is a member of the following Cross-Party Groups:

Parliamentary Activities

Search for other Speeches made by Margaret Burgess

Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
The Minister for Housing and Welfare (Margaret Burgess)

It has always been a priority that welfare funds should be delivered in such a way that the dignity of welfare fund users is preserved. I agree with the committee’s suggestion that we have an opportunity to take a different approach to welfare in Scotland. Regardless of the funds available, our services will be delivered with respect and understanding.

I have been considering the issue for some time, and we have been working with local authority practitioners through the series of decision-making workshops that we have been running to raise awareness of the challenges that some of the applicants to the fund face and to try to ensure that decision makers put applicants and their needs at the centre of their work.

On my visits to local authorities, I have seen the efforts that local authority staff make to ensure that applicants are assisted in a timely and appropriate way. That said, I appreciate how important it is to send a clear signal about the need to treat applicants with dignity and respect. I have thought carefully about the matter for some time and I believe that it is right to give priority to that aspect of the fund by including appropriate reference to it in the bill. However, there are two similar amendments to consider.

Amendment 24, which Margaret McDougall has lodged, is laudable in its intention, but my concern with it centres on the impact that it could have on local authority resources. The reality of the situation is that, as Kevin Stewart said, there is a limited budget for welfare funds, which is coming under pressure. We have to acknowledge the demands on the fund and the opportunities for savings through local authorities bulk buying goods that they can distribute through it. That is alongside the added administrative burdens that local authorities would have to bear if we accepted amendment 24.

The guidance on the current interim scheme makes it clear that, if an individual has particular needs, they should be met, and I am determined that that will continue under the permanent arrangements. We will reconsider the guidance for the permanent arrangements to determine whether we can do more to ensure that, where applicants have a genuine need for a non-standard product, there is a clear understanding of how it should be provided.

Therefore, I support amendment 30, which captures the essence of what stakeholders have called for without bringing additional pressure to bear on local authority budgets. I urge Margaret McDougall to seek to withdraw amendment 24, and I ask the committee to accept amendment 30.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

There are a number of things to take into account when considering amendments 25, 26 and 28, which would, taken together, result in limits being placed on the circumstances in which local authorities could make non-financial assistance available to applicants.

I was interested in the evidence that the committee heard from users of the interim Scottish welfare fund, who came out in support of local authorities providing goods to fulfil community care grant awards.

We commissioned Heriot-Watt University to undertake an independent evaluation of the Scottish welfare fund, as part of our on-going work to improve the interim scheme and develop the permanent arrangements. That evaluation suggests that there is support for awards in kind, as long as they are appropriate to the applicant’s needs. We heard that for someone who has children or who has limited mobility, having an item delivered—and installed, because local authorities can also provide such services—can be preferable to a cash award.

I recognise third sector organisations’ concerns about provision of goods, but we must acknowledge the pressures on the fund and take the opportunities for savings that are afforded by local authorities buying in bulk goods that they can distribute through the fund. I am aware that bulk-purchased goods will not meet the needs of all applicants. That is why the guidance for the interim scheme makes it clear that an award should meet the needs of the individual. I am positive that that approach will continue. We will look again at the guidance in the context of the permanent arrangements, to see whether we can do more to ensure that there is clear understanding of how to support applicants who have a genuine need for a non-standard product.

I am not minded to change our approach in respect of community care grants. However, I have been giving thought to how awards for crisis grants are made. I do not think that the issue needs to be addressed in the bill, but when we consult on the regulations and the statutory guidance that will support the legislation we will explore ways of ensuring that the principles of amendment 25 are taken on board in respect of crisis grant payments.

I understand and sympathise with the intention behind amendments 25, 26 and 28, but the bill is not the correct place in which to address the issues that they raise. Therefore, I do not support the amendments in this group and urge the committee not to agree to them.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

Okay—I will respond to your question at the end, convener.

I understand why stakeholders are pressing for families under exceptional pressure to be included in the bill. The term is a descriptor in the interim scheme guidance, but the Scottish Government does not have a free hand to make the same provision explicitly in the text of the bill for everyone who might benefit from welfare funds.

If we were to accept amendment 27, it would, in our view, take the provisions of the bill beyond the competence of the Scottish Parliament. Section 2 of the bill replicates the amendment of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 that was made by the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) (No 2) Order 2013, which gives the powers to the Parliament to legislate in that area. It is commonly known as the section 30 order. In response to your question, convener, I say that anyone could challenge the competence of the Parliament.

Section 2 reproduces the wording of the section 30 order, which means that it gives the fund the broadest possible scope to operate within the reservation. I state clearly that there is no barrier now, nor under the permanent arrangements by virtue of the bill’s wording, to prevent families under exceptional pressure from accessing welfare funds. Regulations and guidance will ensure that applications from that group continue to be given priority. The families in the examples that Ken Macintosh and Margaret McDougall have given are not currently excluded under the interim arrangements and will not be excluded under the permanent arrangements.

The bill sets out a high-level framework for welfare funds, but the details of how it will operate will be set out in regulations and statutory guidance. The current draft regulations, which we produced to give an indication of the areas that would be covered in regulations, include families under exceptional pressure as one of the five circumstances in which a community care grant can be paid. It is my intention to retain that in the regulations and to work with stakeholders such as the Child Poverty Action Group to ensure that the guidance for the permanent arrangements captures the concerns of stakeholders and deals with them effectively.

To compare the number of awards to families under exceptional pressure under the Department for Work and Pensions social fund with the number of such awards under the Scottish welfare fund, as indicated by Ken Macintosh, is not to compare like with like. There are significant differences between the guidance and monitoring framework for the Scottish welfare fund and that for the DWP social fund. The acid test is where the money is going. The Scottish welfare fund statistics show that, under the interim scheme, 38 per cent of households receiving community care grants contain children, but the comparable figure for crisis grants is 30 per cent. However, under the old DWP scheme, 32 per cent of households that were awarded community care grants in 2012-13 were households with children, and the proportion of crisis grant awards that went to such households was only 16 per cent. That indicates that we are effectively targeting families under pressure now, and it is my belief that we will continue to do so under the permanent arrangements.

I therefore ask members not to support amendment 27.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

I am not a legal person and I know that the legal people are unable to comment at this stage in the process, but what is in the regulations is a subset of what is in the bill, and I am told that that is the legally competent way to do this. I do not know whether I can say this now that I have moved various amendments, but I am willing to look at the provision again and set it out in more detail. However, I want to make it absolutely clear that we intend the Scottish welfare fund to help families under exceptional pressure and that we believe that the way to do that is to ensure that we have the bill right to meet the section 30 order and have the regulations right as well. It is our clear intention that families under exceptional pressure will be assisted from the Scottish welfare fund of the Welfare Funds (Scotland) Bill.

11:00  

Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

Amendment 1 has been proposed in response to evidence that the committee heard during stage 1 raising concerns about the wording of section 5(2)(f). Section 5(2)(f) relates to the power to make regulations

“about circumstances in which amounts may require to be repaid or recovered in respect of assistance”

that has been provided through a welfare fund. Concerns were raised that that regulation-making power could be used at a later date to allow local authorities to administer loans through the welfare funds. That was never the intention and I have always been clear that awards under welfare funds should not be provided in the form of loans. Amendment 1 puts that intention beyond any doubt by specifying that local authorities may not use welfare funds to make loans.

I move amendment 1.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

Amendments 2 and 8 are linked. Amendment 2 removes section 3, which relates to the outsourcing of welfare funds and joint working across local authorities.

The intention behind section 3 was to allow local authorities to outsource provision of welfare funds. I never envisaged the power being used to allow private sector companies to administer welfare funds. However, concerns were raised during stage 1 regarding the possibility of the provision of welfare funds being outsourced to the private sector.

As the Scottish Government response to the committee’s stage 1 report pointed out, it is not possible to specify on the face of the bill that outsourcing should be restricted to third sector organisations only, so the options available to me were to retain section 3, which would leave open the possibility of outsourcing to the private sector, or to remove the provision. Given the strength of feeling that was expressed against private sector companies administering the welfare funds, I believe that removing the option to outsource is the right thing to do.

By removing all of section 3, references to local authorities jointly administering welfare funds are being removed from the bill. However, amendment 2 would not prevent local authorities from making arrangements to administer welfare funds jointly, as section 56(5) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 provides a general power for two or more local authorities to discharge functions jointly.

I move amendment 2.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

Yes, that would be the effect. The third sector charitable organisations argued that it was not something that they would wish to do. As I made clear, there is no way to separate it out. The option was to remove the section totally or not at all and there was clear strength of feeling that we could not leave it in as it could allow private organisations to administer the funds.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

I do not have the specific advice on that point. We would have to look at the levels at which charitable organisations are able to bid under procurement rules. I have to say that the main reason why we removed the provision from the bill was the strength of feeling among committee members, the Parliament and third sector organisations when I indicated what I was doing at stage 1. The argument was strongly put that we should not have a provision in the bill that had the potential to allow outsourcing to the private sector.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

I have nothing further to add.



Welfare Reform Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Burgess

This group of amendments covers local authority reviews of decisions that they have made on welfare funds applications.

Amendment 3 creates a right of review of a local authority decision. That replaces a previous provision that provided that ministers may make regulations on reviews. Amendment 3 also allows ministers to make regulations setting out the circumstances in which a local authority decision on a welfare funds application does not have to be reviewed, how applications for a review should be made, and time limits within which applications should be made.

Amendment 9 is made in consequence of amendment 3. The substance of the provision that is removed by amendment 9 is recreated in the regulation-making powers that are provided by amendment 3.

The Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee and the Welfare Reform Committee called for regulations that are made under the bill to be subject to affirmative procedure, given that much of the detail of how the welfare funds will operate will be set out in regulations and guidance. Amendment 5 changes the procedure for regulations that are made under section 4, which, subject to the amendments being agreed to, will relate only to reviews undertaken by local authorities, from negative to affirmative procedure.

Amendment 10 enables ministers to make provision in regulations setting out the procedure that local authorities should follow in reviews and applications for reviews and the timescales that would apply to them when carrying out reviews.

In summary, the group contains a range of amendments that are intended to clarify how the Scottish Government will approach setting out the framework within which local authority reviews should operate.

I move amendment 3.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12182.1 Alex Fergusson: The Chilcot Inquiry—As an amendment to motion S4M-12182 in the name of N
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12182 Nicola Sturgeon: The Chilcot Inquiry—That the Parliament calls for Sir John Chilcot’s offi
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12176 John Swinney: Community Charge Debt (Scotland) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the gene
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12160.2 Michael Matheson: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Kez
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12160.3 Margaret Mitchell: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Ke
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12160 Kezia Dugdale: Women Offenders—That the Parliament welcomes the decision of the Scottish G
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12154.1 Lewis Macdonald: Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) – Supporting Indivi
>> Show more
Not VotedDefeated

S4M-12120.1 Jenny Marra: 2020 Vision, the Strategic Forward Direction of the NHS—As an amendment to
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12101 John Swinney: Budget (Scotland) (No.4) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the general prin
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12095.4 Ken Macintosh: Tackling Inequalities—As an amendment to motion S4M-12095 in the name of
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Margaret Burgess
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11877: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 11/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11763.3: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11494: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11023: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10438: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09926.3: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09747.2: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09749: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09482: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/03/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09209: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 03/03/2014 Show Full Motion >>
This Member currently holds a ministerial post. First Minister and Ministers cannot ask the Government questions which is why no recent questions are displaying here. Please use the full search to find details of previous questions by this Member.
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-01233: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/06/2012 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-01111: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/05/2012 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-01048: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/05/2012 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-00935: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 11/04/2012 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-00731: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 22/02/2012 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-00697: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 08/02/2012 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-05033: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 16/01/2012 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-00566: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 14/12/2011 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-00512: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 07/12/2011 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-00440: Margaret Burgess, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 16/11/2011 Show Full Question >>

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