Council leaders have voiced “real concerns” about the impact of government proposals for a National Care Service on Scotland’s local authorities – at the same time as warning changes could result in reduced spending on care and poorer services in the short term.
Local government body Cosla said the plans, currently being consulted on by ministers, would result in “mammoth scale” change and are being rushed through.
The Scottish Government proposals could see traditional care services – such as residential homes and care for people in their own homes – come under the remit of the new National Care Service.
But the consultation document says there is also a need to “consider the merits of extending the scope of a National Care Service to oversee all age groups and a wider range of needs”, by taking in services for children and young people, social work, community justice, and alcohol and drug services.
Cosla president Alison Evison said: “Should responsibilities for all of the services in the proposals be removed from local government, it will represent the biggest change since the local government reorganisation in 1996 and the biggest reform of the public sector in decades.
“It is important there is transparency about what this could mean in reality.”
Vice president Graham Houston said the possible inclusion of areas such as community justice and children’s services in the proposed National Care Service “came out of nowhere” with “no prior consultation”.
He went on to warn that if councils no longer have responsibility for care, the “top-up funding” local authorities provide for such services could instead be spent on other areas.
With councils under increasing financial pressure, he said when decisions are made on budgets “and the responsibility for care it looks like is going to be taken away in next 18 months or two years or so”, councillors would have to consider how cash is spent.
Houston continued: “They are politicians and they will take decisions accordingly. So if it’s not the responsibility any more, the money will follow where the responsibility still lies, so there is a danger that the top-up funding which goes into the delivery of care right now will be diverted elsewhere.”
That was echoed by Cosla resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor, who said: “If councils need to invest… they are going to think twice about doing that if there is a certainty in two years’ time that things are going to get wrapped up into a National Care Service.
“I think it could have a detrimental impact in the short-term on the service use.
“In respect of funding, if I am being very blunt, if we had been sufficiently funded to date and we hadn’t had the budget cuts that we have had over the past ten years, we might be delivering the service they (the Scottish Government) want us to be delivering.”
Evison added: “Councils want to continue providing these essential services for communities in the long term, but we need adequate support and funding to do so.”
She argued that what is being proposed by ministers is “wholesale change” which “goes far beyond national care”.
She said: “If these proposals are carried forward and if services are taken away from the control of local government, there are real concerns about what will be left for local government.
“Looking forward to what this might mean, there are real concerns about the future of local government.
“To have such drastic change to the whole governance of Scotland requires openness about what is going on here. It needs openness and it needs transparency and thorough discussions over a long period.
“It is being rushed far too much, given the extent of what is proposed in the consultation.”
Houston said: “Everybody knows there are issues within the care system in Scotland, and certainly over the period of time of Covid that has highlighted that for everyone to see.
“Cosla on behalf of local government are not saying we want to maintain the status quo, we support change and we want to see improvement in the system.
“But we want to make the point that if the current system was invested in, then real and meaningful improvement could happen quickly for those who are actually using the system. We could do that without the fundamental, structural changes outlined in the consultation.”
Social care minister Kevin Stewart said: “We are committed to delivering a National Care Service by the end of this parliament in order to help improve the provision and consistency of care services across Scotland.
“This consultation is an opportunity for everyone to have a say in building a social care system that delivers what people need.
“We are still very early in the consultation process and we look forward to considering all feedback when the consultation closes later this year.”