MINISTERS have admitted staff at Scotland’s devolved benefits agency “struggle” with a key IT system and revealed there is also a lack of fundamental information about the cost and timing of its replacement.

The SNP Government yesterday issued a “request for supplier information” asking firms basic questions about build options, prices and timescales for the new piece of kit.

The internal Knowledge Management system (KM) is meant to be “the single source of truth and first point of contact” for all guidance documents at Social Security Scotland.

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It should supply staff in offices and communities with “policy documents, benefit information, eligibility criteria, links to legislation” and information about all job roles at the agency.

However, despite the Government taking responsibility for £3.5bn of devolved benefits next April, ministers are only now asking the marketplace what options are available, including whether to buy a commercial system off-the-shelf or build one from scratch.

The Government is also seeking information on “indicative costs, indicative timescales” and types of software licence, despite the KM being priced at £400,000 in 2017.

It now says feedback from business “will provide us with an understanding of available technologies, the art of the possible and potential delivery approaches and timescales”.

The Scottish Tories said it could be another IT disaster in the making.

The new official document also revealed current benefits agency staff face “a number of challenges” using the Scottish Government’s general intranet as an “interim solution”.

These include problems with search queries, finicky spellings, an inability to filter results, an inability to fine tune the system, no offline access, too much jargon and over-centralisation.

“Heavy use of acronyms means users struggle to find content when using everyday terms, as acronyms must be written in full,” it says, adding: “authoring is limited to a central team, meaning ad-hoc guidance is distributed by email”.

In its request for information, the government says: “Working with clients, we have established that there is an expectation Social Security Scotland staff are ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘well-informed’ about the services being provided, and clients should receive consistent answers to questions no matter who they ask.

“Clients also expect staff to have a broad range of knowledge about benefits and wider knowledge of support networks which may be of use to clients.”

The KM solution should bring “together people, process and technology to create a knowledge hub which connects staff to information, and to each other, to ensure they have access to the right information to meet customer needs”.

The internal KM, for use by agency staff, is only the first phase in a wider KM programme that is also supposed to include a public-facing system and one for partnership agencies.

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In May, Auditor General Caroline Gardner, warned there was a “significant risk” SNP ministers might fail to deliver the 11 devolved benefits on time amid problems with IT systems and staff shortages.

Although Westminster legislation for devolved benefits was passed in 2016, their full rollout has been repeatedly delayed by Scottish ministers, most recently to 2025, leading to opposition mockery of the SNP’s claim it could deliver independence in 18 months.

Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne said: “It seems like the SNP is on the brink of another IT crisis entirely of its own making. This is clearly something the SNP government should have long ago sorted out. Instead, as usual, everything has been left to the last minute, and users of the system and staff will be forced to pick up the pieces.”

The Scottish LibDems said Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville “should explain why the government is only turning its attention to this now and whether she is confident the new service will be delivered within budget and on time.

“The longer they faff about and delay, the longer vulnerable people on disability benefits have to suffer under a stressful and unfair system.”

The Scottish Government said: “The delivery on the IT infrastructure is on track and on budget and any suggestion to the contrary is ill informed.”