Nigel Don MSP

Welcome to Nigel Don MSP's biography pages

Parliamentary Activities

Member of the Conveners Group

Search for other Speeches made by Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

Public Audit Committee 17 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Nigel Don

I am not doubting that, but I wanted you to put it on the record, because there is a tendency to believe that IT systems are just like cars: that when you put all the bits in the right place and put petrol in, they will work. We need to understand that they may not be like that.

11:00  

Public Audit Committee 17 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Nigel Don

It is still an IT project.



Public Audit Committee 17 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Nigel Don

I am glad to hear that.

I return to the idea of critical paths, which are always a bit of a problem when we are having to test stuff. That is part of the process. We never quite get it right, and the system needs to be tweaked, but we never know how long that will take. How meaningful is it to have some kind of critical path analysis? I am sure that you have one in this case. Where do you derive your confidence from?



Public Audit Committee 17 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Nigel Don

If there is a relatively steady stream—albeit that there are bound to be fluctuations—and if it so happens that the system does not quite work on 1 April, you can process the returns manually and get the system running on 2 or 3 April, or whenever. My real question is this: is this a soft landing—I think it is—or is there some genuinely critical date at which the system must work, or else we will be in trouble?



Public Audit Committee 17 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Nigel Don

I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the evidence. I do not think that I missed much, but I am sorry if I repeat anything, although I am sure that people will point that out.

You mentioned the critical path, which I raised earlier and wish to return to. I am grateful for your comments about the staff posts that are not on the critical path. Am I right in thinking that—as is implied by exhibit 2 on page 9—on 1 April you will not suddenly find that everybody wants to send you a tax return, and that what will actually happen is that people who happen to have bought or sold properties—whoever is responsible for doing that—will send you something relating to the transactions that have happened on that day? Will there be a relatively steady stream of transactions for you to deal with, rather than a pile of them suddenly arriving like the Christmas post.



Public Audit Committee 17 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Nigel Don

Thank you—and thank you, convener. I must go now.



Public Audit Committee 17 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Nigel Don

May I then try to put that in the context of what I would describe from previous experience as the critical path? I am sure that that is a familiar term to you.

I am looking again at page 14 and exhibit 3, and I am thinking that, if the Scottish Government’s plans had put everything two months later, you would have had nothing to say other than that the project was on plan. I am not suggesting that the Scottish Government should have put things two months later, but I am reflecting that if the project could still have got to the end point—in other words, if the critical path allowed those points to be two months later—we would not be here talking about this, because it would appear that everything was on target.

My question then becomes: where is the critical path in this project? Are those milestones now in the right place, or are we actually past them?



Public Audit Committee 17 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

Thank you, convener. I have to go to another committee in about five minutes to discuss a constituency issue.

Good morning, Auditor General. If I may, I will pick up on the point about risk. I understand from running a few small projects in my time that there is always a risk, and I reflect that, whether the risk that something will go wrong is 50:50 or 0.5 per cent, we would still describe it as a risk. There is also a risk—in the other sense—that the rest of the world will believe that the world is about to fall down. The risk is actually minute, but you would still describe it as a risk.



Meeting of the Parliament 16 December 2014 : Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Nigel Don

I find Ken Macintosh’s claim about the normal tone of the debate on this subject very disappointing, because my experience would indicate that he probably will be very consensual. I hope that he will carry on being so, because it is much better that way.



Meeting of the Parliament 16 December 2014 : Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

I am enormously grateful to Bob Doris, who elegantly put everything in context. As he said, tens of millions of pounds in a fund will do no more than scratch the surface of a problem that is measured in billions. He is right to put the issue in that context and say, “Look—we are doing a little bit. It is important, and we need to get it right, but let’s not pretend that this is any more than marginal.”

What it is, perhaps, is the start of things to come. We are talking about crisis grants because crisis is the right word for the folk who need them. The situation is going to get worse. Public funding is going to drop, whether we like it or not, and we are going to have to get better at distributing it appropriately, in ways that are efficient and effective.

Section 4 of the bill refers to the second-tier review by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. Several members have referred to that; I would like to do so at slightly greater length. First, I suggest that when we have a good review mechanism—of anything, but certainly of anything lawful—it improves decisions. Anybody making an administrative decision will be looking over their shoulder and asking, “Who’s checking this?” If they know that the checking system is good, they are much more likely to think carefully and come to the right answer in the first place. Review mechanisms are therefore extremely important. It is also very important that the review itself works well, and I am sure that the SPSO will ensure that it does.

I also note that Jackie Baillie is right—it is no surprise to say that—because the bill describes a different role for the SPSO. It is not just about reviewing a decision; the SPSO has the opportunity to overturn a decision—section 4(4) tells us that. That is very useful and is what one would have expected, but it does beg the question whether the other SPSO powers remain.

That is probably put in context by looking at the wording in section 4(4), which is that

“the Ombudsman may quash the decision ... and direct a local authority to reconsider”

or direct it in another way. I put it to the Government that it might reflect on whether “may quash” is the right wording. If the ombudsman, on reviewing the decision, concludes that a different decision should have been made, the ombudsman probably should quash the decision, rather than just be able to do so. The other options—to direct the local authority to reconsider or to decide what the original decision should have been—are normal ones that one would expect from a court. I wonder whether the minister might reconsider the issue.

In that context, I note that paragraph 63 of the stage 1 report—which is a model of report writing, for which I thank the clerks—says:

“The SPSO said in its written submission that it intends to ask the Scottish Government to include a provision in the legislation allowing the SPSO to produce rules, after appropriate consultation, showing how it will consider reviews.”

I am sorry, but I am struggling. The SPSO knows perfectly well how to do reviews—that is what it does. Any student of administrative law would be able to tell us that we need an independent investigator, who will assemble and review the information from both parties, reach an objective and explicable decision, and communicate that decision and its explanation to the parties. They do all of that as fast as is reasonably practicable. Maybe I have missed something but I am not quite sure why the SPSO needs to consult on a set of rules—never mind have them provided for it—to do what is actually mainline stuff in its job.

Section 5(2)(f) may not mean very much to the casual observer, but it is the subsection that talks about the

“circumstances in which amounts may require to be repaid or recovered”.

Several members have talked about the issue of fraud. I think that is generally recognised that, when something has been obtained by fraud, it should be repayable. Members have also commented that it would be good if it were clarified that that is the case. I endorse that. It seems to me that if section 5(2)(f) refers to fraud, or is meant to refer to fraud, it would be a very good idea if it actually said so. If that is the reason why we might want to recover amounts, why do we not say so and take the ambiguity out of the bill? I may be being very simple this afternoon, but I believe that there is some merit in saying what we mean.

Correspondence reached us about the cost effectiveness of the process. Looking at the data that has been assembled, I hope that I am correct in saying that the average crisis grant is of the order of £80 and the average community care grant is of the order of £650, although I note comments from other members that the amounts seem to vary quite considerably between local authorities.

If those sums are anything like right—I am sure that they are—it really would pay local authorities to ensure that they have a pretty slick process for coming to those decisions. If it is costing a lot to get those kinds of sums out, it is better simply to pay the money and not to have another person checking; otherwise, there is a real risk that we spend our time paying officials rather than those who are in crisis. I think that I echo other members’ comments on that.

The same thing therefore applies to the idea of involuntary gatekeeping that members have referred to. It is probably not terribly helpful to have advisers in one capacity or another saying to a possible claimant that it is just not worth trying to claim. It might be very much better if advisers said, “Maybe you should apply,” because if people are in crisis, that is where the money should be going. If we have a sensible system for paying money out, we should be taking the opportunity to do so.

I have also taken a look at the statistics in the documents, which are online. Statisticians might say that the statistics are very variable. They seem to cover all four corners of the graph—I think that the technical term is “a plum pudding”. The speed with which funds are paid out and the amount that is paid out vary quite significantly across councils, and the correlation does not seem to apply in the same way to different councils. Some consistency is required, and I am sure that the Government will be aware of that. I am not sure how the Government will get the information—if management of the fund is delegated to councils, it is the responsibility of councils—but some consistency and some understanding of why the inconsistency is there would be helpful to all concerned.

Finally, there is the issue of the funding of signposters. There are various agencies, citizens advice bureaux perhaps in particular, that are often the first port of call—apart perhaps from MSPs—for those who need help. It costs money to provide that advice; it is important that the advice is good and that facilities are available. Again, it is a matter of cost effectiveness. I am not inviting the Government to spend the money more than once, but we need to have a serious look at where the advice is coming from and we need to make sure that that is properly and effectively funded.

At the end of the day, I am sure that every member in this chamber shares my view that, although in the grand context of austerity the sums involved are not huge, they are enormously important. The fund is dealing with people and families who are in crisis, and the system really needs to be good at the point of delivery.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11901.3 Neil Findlay: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11901.1 Mary Scanlon: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11830.2 John Swinney: The Smith Commission—As an amendment to motion S4M-11830 in the name of Ru
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11830 Ruth Davidson: The Smith Commission—That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Sm
>> Show more
YesCarried

Amendment 6 moved by Dr Richard Simpson on motion S4M-11826 Maureen Watt: Food (Scotland) Bill—That
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11825.3 Claire Baker: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11825.2 Jamie McGrigor: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11825.1 Tavish Scott: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11825 Richard Lochhead: End of Year Fish Negotiations—That the Parliament welcomes the successfu
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11763.3 Margaret Burgess: Private Sector Rent Reform—As an amendment to motion S4M-11763 in the
>> Show more
YesCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Nigel Don
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11748: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 28/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11701: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 26/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11676: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11605: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 18/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11466: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09965: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 07/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09910: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 01/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09887: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 01/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09813: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 24/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09678: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 08/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Nigel Don
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03872: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03800: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 01/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03722: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03688: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 03/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03410: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 16/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03349: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21123: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 13/05/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03179: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 28/04/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03172: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/04/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03114: Nigel Don, Angus North and Mearns, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 24/03/2014 Show Full Question >>

Further information

Email our Public Information Service for more information.