Scotland's powers and the Social Fund

This is from a discussion from the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, 1st May 2012:

Jackie Baillie: Evidence from Professor Paul Spicker suggested that the Scottish Government does not have the power and competence to deliver benefits and the replacement social fund, and you appear to have opted to use local government powers, through a section 30 order. Is that why you said that you are considering introducing a social fund bill in 2013-14?
Nicola Sturgeon: We would need the section 30 order to legislate, as well. We have chosen the approach that I described partly for reasons of speed, so that we can get the interim arrangements in place, and because we are confident that we can do it in such a way. Our preferred approach of legislating later is just that—a preferred approach—and is not being taken because we consider that we require primary legislation. However, because of the interaction with social security we need a section 30 order, combined with the general power to advance wellbeing that local authorities have, to put the arrangements in place.
Jackie Baillie: Was he correct to say that there are issues of competence, which you have managed to overcome?
Nicola Sturgeon: To whom are you referring?
Jackie Baillie: Professor Paul Spicker.
Nicola Sturgeon: Before I could say whether he was correct I would need to look at the evidence. I would be happy to do so and to tell the committee what we think of it, if that would be helpful.
Jackie Baillie: It would be helpful to our consideration to understand what powers the Scottish Government has and for what purpose you would seek a section 30 order.”

So – am I right? The straight answer is, I don’t know. The issues are complex; the powers conveyed by the devolution settlement relating to local government can be read in different ways; in the event of a dispute, it is often difficult to know what an authoritative interpretation would look like. My main concern in raising the matter publicly now is to ensure that any resolution will not involve delay, confusion or denial of service to people in need. The resolution seems to hang on what the proposed section 30(2) order actually says. I am reasonably confident that the problems can be ironed out, but any practical solution is going to need to clear the ground so that Scottish and local government can operate effectively.

A further note, June 2012. A note from Nicola Sturgeon says this:

“The Scottish Government’s position on Professor Spicker’s submission is that his analysis of the power to promote well-being, specifically as enabled by section 20(2)(b) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 2003 is generally consistent with our own analysis … we do intend to work with the UK Government to bring forward an order under section 30 of the Scotland Act, to ensure that the desired policy can be delivered using to power to promote well-being.”

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