THE Scottish Government has done a good job of delivering its first set of benefits, according to Scotland’s public spending watchdog, but the real challenge has still to come.

Auditor General for Scotland, Caroline Gardner, said carers and new parents had successfully received payments last year, and the new benefits agency, Social Security Scotland, was set up. But bringing in early benefits was harder than expected.

She said the government does not yet have a clear picture of what will be needed to make the next, much more complex, set of benefit payments.

Civil servants had been left little time to pause and refocus their activity because of constant short-term pressures and a high pace of work, which posed risks to the overall delivery of future benefits.

“The government has done well to date but has had to work flat out to reach this point, leaving little time to draw breath and plan for the challenges ahead,” said Gardner.

“The social security team is doing the right things to address that issue, but it hasn’t yet got a clear understanding of what’s needed to deliver the more complex benefits to come, or how much it will cost. Many decisions about future benefits are still to be made and it’s critical that detailed plans are now put in place.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Social Security Secretary, said the challenges of setting up the new system had never been underestimated.

“Our aim from the start has been to get social security right for Scotland - in a way that treats people with dignity and respect and protects people and payments,” she said.

“I have always been clear, just as my predecessors were, that we don’t underestimate the challenges and complexities ahead, but we have also always recognised the opportunity we have to change social security for the better for Scotland.

“We have delivered everything we promised ... By the end of this year we will have delivered three of the 11 devolved benefits and four brand new payments to Scottish people most in need - from families with young children, carers helping in our communities and those mourning their bereaved.”

“I value Audit Scotland’s views and am pleased we are already taking action that responds to their recommendations.”

Somerville added: “While we recognise there is much more to do - our track record shows we can meet the challenge ahead.”