THE Scottish Government’s independent budget watchdog has revealed it has faced a “significant challenge” obtaining vital data from Whitehall.

Dame Susan Rice, chair of the Scottish Fiscal Commission, said the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) treated a recent request for data like a standard freedom of information request from a member of the public, rather than from another public body.

She said she was concerned about access to DWP data, and the lack of a formal agreement with the department had created uncertainty about future requests.

She told MSPs: “We need to get this resolved.”

The SNP said it showed the UK Government "contempt" towards Scottish government institutions.

Akin to the UK’s Office of Budget responsibility, the Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) is established in law, and its forecasts set the spending limit for the Scottish budget.

Access to DWP data is becoming increasingly important to the budget, as minister take responsible for a suite of devolved social security payments.

Dame Susan was giving evidence to Holyrood’s finance committee about recent Fiscal Commission forecasts, which have been recently revised for 2017/18.

Dame Susan told the MSPs: “We are concerned about our access to data from the UK Department for Work and Pensions.

“We don’t currently have an agreed way of obtaining access to the data that we require, and our most recent request for information - public body to public body - was treated as a freedom of information request.

“While we received this information just in time for us to be able to examine it, it places us in an uncertain situation with regard to future data requests.”

Bruce Crawford, the SNP convener of the committee, said the DWP treating requests as FoIs was “somewhat surprising” given the data was needed for Scotland’s new social security system.

“It seems to me quite a significant challenge,” he said.

Dame Susan replied: “It is and it was a significant challenge. This has happened in recent weeks. We have however been very active.”

She said the Commission had tried to help the DWP “understand our needs”.

She said: “Our sense is that… they would prefer to take all requests from Scotland from the Scottish Government.

“The Commission acts independently, and we have both a right and a need to request our own data, and we’ve raised this.

“We do need to get this resolved. We need an agreement, a memorandum of understanding, about how we work together as we have with the other UK and Scottish agencies.”

SNP MSP Angela Constance said: "This is yet another example of the UK government treating Scottish institutions with contempt. 

"Why is it that a Tory government so resents working in a cooperative fashion over Scotland's new social security system which puts fairness and dignity at its heart? 

"Time and time again it’s the DWP who are the worst offenders in this respect - averse to transparency in all cases, with their focus primarily on hammering those who depend on social security.

"The DWP should redress this as a matter of urgency - putting in place the same agreement with the Scottish Fiscal Commission as they have with HMRC."

A DWP spokesperson said: "We are in discussions with the Scottish Fiscal Commission to determine their data needs and once we have an agreed understanding of requirements, will explore data sharing options."