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MSPs cite ‘significant concerns’ over national care service financial plans

(Steve Parsons/PA)
(Steve Parsons/PA)

A cross-party group of MSPs say they have “significant concerns” about the lack of detailed costs for the planned national care service (NCS).

The plan to merge social care into a single national service is facing criticism due to a lack of clarity about the final price tag.

However, the Scottish Government is determined to press ahead with the plan, described by the First Minister as the “most significant public service reform” since the creation of the NHS.

Groups in the care sector, including trade unions, have called for the NCS plans to be paused.

Holyrood’s Finance Committee has published a report following its scrutiny of the National Care Service Bill and its associated financial memorandum.

It says fully-costed plans should be brought forward before MSPs debate the general principles of the Bill in March next year.

Committee convener Kenneth Gibson said: “The Finance Committee has significant concerns over the costings in the financial memorandum (FM) to this Bill.

“The FM in its present form does not provide an overall estimate of the cost of creating a national care service.

“A large number of decisions are yet to be made and no estimate of costings has been provided for VAT liability, transfer of assets and staff, and the creation of a nationwide digital health and social care record. All of which has the potential to result in significant costs.”

He continued: “The committee appreciates the Scottish Government’s intention to co-design the service with those most closely affected.

“That work could, however, have been undertaken prior to the introduction of primary legislation.

“Major bills should not be implemented via secondary legislation, or through business cases, which cannot be subject to the same in-depth, formal scrutiny as financial memorandums to bills.

“The significant gaps highlighted throughout our report have frustrated the parliamentary scrutiny process.

“We are therefore calling for a revised financial memorandum, with detailed costings, at least two weeks before Parliament considers the Bill at Stage 1.”

On Wednesday, social care minister Kevin Stewart said the Government still intended to launch the NCS in the current session of the Scottish Parliament, which ends in 2026.

National Adult Support and Protection Day
Kevin Stewart insisted the plans would go ahead (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

He told MSPs: “The costs in the financial memorandum largely represent investment in service improvement and terms and conditions for frontline care staff.

“Any suggestion that the figures relate exclusively to admin costs is totally false.”

He said he wanted to create a service which is “sustainable and future-proofed”.

By 2026, annual costs for provisions of the Bill are estimated to be between £240 million and £527 million.

However, auditors have warned this could understate the real costs as outdated assumptions about inflation were used.

Mr Stewart added: “The national care service is the biggest public-sector reform in Scotland since the NHS was created after the Second World War.

“Our aim in delivering a national care service is to end the postcode lottery in care provision in Scotland and we look forward to continuing to working with service users to help co-design the new service.

“I welcome the scrutiny of this committee as the parliament has an important role in strengthening the legislation that we bring forward.

“I look forward to giving the recommendations of the committee detailed consideration and to report back to them with the further detail they are seeking in due course.”