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Cosla warns over cost of running Scotland’s proposed National Care Service

Setting up a National Care Service could see some 60% of additional funding for care going on running costs rather than services, Cosla warned (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Setting up a National Care Service could see some 60% of additional funding for care going on running costs rather than services, Cosla warned (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The cost of running Scotland’s proposed new National Care Service (NCS) could use 60% of the additional cash announced by ministers to improve care services across the country, council chiefs have said.

This year’s resource spending review promised a 25% increase in Scottish Government investment in social care – with the additional funds said to be “equivalent to more than £840 million”.

But Cosla, the organisation which represents local authorities in Scotland, said government estimates had shown running costs for the NCS could amount to £500 million each year – potentially representing 60% of the additional cash.

Rather than the “costly and disruptive structural change” of a new national service, Cosla is urging ministers to focus on making improvements to the service people receive.

With councils responsible for some care services in Scotland, the local authority group has already raised concerns about the move.

Cosla health and social care spokesman Councillor Paul Kelly said: “At a time when social care services are under extreme pressure, funding should be directed at addressing the many challenges the sector faces rather than the priority being the complex, time-consuming and unsettling transfer of local government staff and assets into a centralised structure.”

He added: “Staff in social care have worked extremely hard to provide care to the increasing number of people who need it in our communities.

“We know that this growing demand and the growing complexity of need mean that all of our resources should be focussed on addressing these issues.

“The Scottish Government’s National Care Service proposals, as they currently stand, fail to offer the investment needed to help make improvements and ease pressure on staff, services and improve the experience of service users.”

But Kevin Stewart, minister for social care, said the claims were “simply untrue”.

“These claims are simply not true. A significant proportion of the official estimates that Cosla has quoted relates to investments in service improvements and terms and conditions for frontline care staff. Any suggestion that the figures relate exclusively to ‘admin costs’ are false.

“COSLA and local councils say they are currently unable to separate out and publicly account for their own administration costs for social care – so it is difficult to understand how they can claim running costs for the National Care Service will be more expensive.

“Integrated health and social care has long been the joint ambition of local and national government but people who access care have told us that it is not delivering the quality of services they need. The National Care Service has been developed following an independent review that recommended reform to ensure we make services better for those who need them and it is our collective responsibility to do that.

“Combining national oversight with local expertise will ensure that the right balance can be struck in ensuring consistent and fair quality of service provision across Scotland, allow for better sharing of good practice and innovation, and remove unwarranted duplication of functions, making best use of public funds.

“We are not waiting for the NCS to start improving social care – we’re already taking steps to improve outcomes for people accessing care and support and our priority will be to maximise front line spending.

“The Scottish Government’s commitment to Fair Work and the support for fair pay and conditions is a long-standing policy and will be embedded into the values of the new NCS. And, by rewarding and valuing the workforce to deliver the best possible service for the people of Scotland, we will make the sector fit for the future and more attractive to people coming into the profession.”

The National Care Service (Scotland) Bill is being considered at Holyrood, with the legislation setting out to consolidate social care services under a national body divided into regional boards similar to the NHS.

The Bill has been brought forward after the SNP pledged to set up a National Care Service within this Holyrood term in its 2021 election manifesto – with the party arguing it would “improve standards, ensure enhanced pay and conditions for workers and provide better support for unpaid carers”.

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “This is an important intervention from Cosla that exposes the SNP’s plans for a National Care Service for what they are – a sham.

“The government have no vision of what the National Care Service needs to deliver to transform social care, instead they are removing local accountability and choice.

“The SNP’s plans are simply to change structures. This will do nothing to tackle the cultural problems in our care system, raise standards for those cared for or deliver fair pay for workers.

“Only a National Care Service with local delivery, local accountability, and care users at its heart will do.”