Scotland politics

Tax agency Revenue Scotland 'on track' despite concern

The head of Scotland's new tax collection agency has said it is "on track" to be fully up-and-running on time, despite concerns from auditors.

Eleanor Emberson's comments came after watchdog Audit Scotland warned of an "increased risk" of Revenue Scotland being unable to do its job properly.

Ms Emberson told MSPs that risk was being effectively managed.

Revenue Scotland is being set up to collect taxes devolved to the Scottish Parliament under the 2012 Scotland Act.

It will collect the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax, which replaces the current stamp duty, and the Scottish Landfill Tax, from April 2015.

Audit Scotland last week raised concerns that delays in hiring staff and procuring an IT system to collect and administer the new devolved taxes had increased the risk they would not be "effectively managed" when they came into force.

The watchdog warned this could result in tax payments taking longer to process and increased costs of collection.

Tough questioning

Ms Emberson, who faced tough questioning from two separate Scottish Parliament committees, said she challenged Audit Scotland's "perception of risk", adding that she was "confident" Revenue Scotland was "on track" to be up-and-running on time.

Appearing before the audit committee in the wake of the Audit Scotland report, convener Hugh Henry asked Ms Emberson why she told MSPs on 26 November: "There has been a lot of progress but there is nothing negative that I need to report."

She responded: "Managing programmes and managing projects is about managing risk. We are on track because we are managing the risks that Audit Scotland have highlighted."

Ms Emberson, who also appeared before Holyrood's finance committee, said "life had moved on a long way" since Audit Scotland carried out its investigation of Revenue Scotland, adding that its new IT system was currently undergoing testing.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Revenue Scotland is being set up as a result of new financial powers coming to the Scottish Parliament

Audit committee member Tavish Scott also challenged Ms Emberson on her comments from November, adding: "You said that at the same time as knowing there was an Audit Scotland report which showed that risk had increased, didn't you?"

She replied: "I knew that there was an Audit Scotland report due to come out and I had some expectations of what it might say."

When Mr Scott asked why MSPs should believe Ms Emberson over Audit Scotland, she said: "You can believe me on staffing because I'm telling you now the numbers of staff that we have in place, and you can believe me on IT because I tell you that we have a system in testing - I have seen it."

Ms Emberson added: "You can be sure that we're on track to deliver for 1 April and you can be sure that I am on top of working out if there are any problems and any actions I need to take to deal with them."

Mr Scott responded: "That's just assertion in terms of today, isn't it, because the Auditor General's saying something different. Who am I meant to believe?

Ms Emberson said: "I'm asking you toe believe me."

She also told MSPs that, "with the benefit of hindsight", she would have had the staff responsible for setting up Revenue Scotland in working about two months earlier, but added that would have been a "helpful" rather than a "necessary" move.

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