Borders set to lose £10m due to welfare changes

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AN estimated £10 million will be removed from the Borders economy as a result of changes to the welfare benefits system, putting further pressure on public spending in the region.

The Welfare Reform Act introduces a new Universal Credit replacing most existing benefits and limiting the total amount of benefit a household can claim. It will start being paid to new claimants from October 2013 and existing claimants will be moved over to it, or move out of the system altogether by October 2017.

The need for the £700 million of public sector funding in the Borders to be spent as effectively as possible to compensate for the reduced amount of welfare benefits will be more important than ever but a recent Accounts Commission report on the region’s partnership working suggests that improvements are needed.

Scottish Borders Council, NHS Borders, business, voluntary sector, police, fire service and housing agencies all work together as joint partners in the region’s Community Planning Partnership to: support the local economy; mitigate welfare reform; address health and social care challenges of an ageing population; and reduce the outcome gap between the most and least deprived communities in the Borders.

The partnership recently underwent an audit - the first of its kind in Scotland to focus on joint working rather than the work of individual organisations - and auditors concluded that: “There is little evidence to show that increased partnership working had any significant impact in tackling inequalities within the Scottish Borders,” adding that the partnership “has lacked effective performance management and shared accountability”.

The audit report highlighted some good examples of partnership working in the Scottish Borders, but their concern was that there was no evidence that the work had actually led to an improvement in the lives of local people. They also considered the lack of agreement between the organisations about how they would allocate funds for joint working projects as a “significant weakness”.

Scottish Borders Council has a responsibility to take the lead role in the partnership and the Audit report is critical of their “lack of political leadership” and their reliance on senior officers instead.

Scottish Borders Council refused to comment on the audit saying: “Although the report has been considered by the Accounts Commission, their findings will not be provided to Audit Scotland until next week. It would be incomplete to consider the findings without the national overview report, as this provides the further context that is necessary to give the complete overview required.

“We are considering the emerging findings with our partners and will be responding to the report at the time of its official publication on March 20.”