The decision by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to refuse to send officials to brief the Welfare Reform Committee has been strongly criticised today.
The Welfare Reform Committee invited staff who make the decisions regarding Employment and Support Allowance to informally brief them. This followed a visit to the offices of Atos in November 2012 and evidence to the Committee this year regarding concerns as to the scoring system used and the judgements taken.
In a letter from the DWP, the request was declined and instead, the offer was made for MSPs to visit the decision-makers in their offices.
Committee Convener Michael McMahon MSP said:
“This refusal smacks again of the DWP treating this Parliament with disdain. It is insulting to those of us elected to do this job on behalf of the people of Scotland.
"But worse than that, it is insulting to the brave witnesses who have come before this Committee, in public and on the record, to talk so candidly about their fears.
“I fail to see how the decision-makers visiting us to brief the Committee in a private meeting at Holyrood is any different to us visiting them in their offices. The information we would gain is the same. This appears to be purely about control.”
On Tuesday, Work Services Director for Scotland Richard Cornish, Strategy Director Pete Searle, and Benefits Director Jason Feeney will appear before the Committee. The Committee had hoped to meet decision-makers after the meeting for an informal discussion.
Deputy Committee Convener Jamie Hepburn MSP explained:
“Our Committee fully appreciates that these are fairly junior members of staff we wanted to speak with. That is why we offered to meet them privately. It is about helping us gather information to serve the people who elected us and are asking us questions about welfare reform.
"At some stage, the DWP has to engage fully with this Committee and not just when it wants and how it wants. That is just not good enough.”