Almost £10m has been spent working on Scotland’s centralised care service as the next stage in making it law is delayed for a third time.
The deadline to debate the Scottish Government’s National Care Service Bill had been pushed back until after the summer in the hope of finding “compromise” and “consensus” with those concerned about it.
But this week a further extension was agreed with it now set to be discussed by January 31, 2024.
The total cost of civil servants working on the controversial National Care Service to date has been revealed as more than £9.65m.
Under the changes, adult social care – and potentially other areas including drug and alcohol services and children’s services – would be taken out of the hands of local authorities and given to newly formed, regional care boards which would ultimately be responsible to ministers.
There are currently 170 civil servants working on the programme, compared to 67 in June last year, although some may not be working on it 100% of their time, minister for social care minister Maree Todd said.
“The SNP need to stop squandering taxpayers cash and finally accept reality,” Scottish Conservative shadow social care minister Craig Hoy MSP said.
“They are continuing to blow millions on plans to centralise care services across Scotland despite overwhelming opposition to the plans from nearly every stakeholder.”
Hoy said the money should be diverted to councils instead.
The Bill has come under intense scrutiny from opposition parties, trade unions, and local authorities – which are currently responsible for much of the care which would come under the programme’s remit.
COSLA, the organisation which represents local authorities in Scotland, has urged the Government to focus on making improvements to the service people receive rather than the “costly and disruptive structural change” of a new national service.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise there is an urgent need to make improvements to social care now and are determined to deliver a National Care Service that ensures consistent, high quality social care and community healthcare support that meets peoples’ needs.
“It is likely our discussions over summer with key stakeholders will lead to further changes or clarification of some aspects of the NCS, which could have financial implications.
“We will provide additional information the Finance and Public Administration Committee has requested, at least four weeks prior to the stage 1 debate.
“Additional time before the stage 1 debate will mean we can have more direct engagement with people with lived experience, our workforce, unions and local government to make the Bill as robust as possible, and allows Parliament time to consider the outcome of those discussions.”
How should Scotland look after its elderly and vulnerable?
Scotland’s population is continuing to age, with a 50% increase in over 60s projected by 2033.
By mid-2043, it is projected that 22.9% of the population will be of pensionable age, compared to 19.0% in mid-2018.
People with lived experience of social care services have been urged to have their say on the National Care Service plans.
There are 11 public meetings due to take place across Scotland over the summer, kicking off in Stirling on June 20.
Anyone who has worked in the sector, or anyone who relies on the service for themselves or a relative, is invited to contribute.