Humza Yousaf has been accused of having “no idea” how much his government’s flagship social care policy will cost.
The Scottish Government this week refused to provide Holyrood’s finance committee with an updated figure for the National Care Service.
Social care minister Maree Todd said it was not “usual” for a minister to update the financial estimates for a bill before the end of stage two.
She said she did not want to “confuse matters by providing multiple versions” of the plans, which aim to condense Scotland’s social care sector into a single body, run by regional boards and ultimately accountable to ministers.
Speaking at FMQs on Thursday, Douglas Ross urged the First Minister to deliver an update on the costs.
The Scottish Tory leader said: “The last estimate for the centralised care service was £1.3bn but after that figure came out Audit Scotland said this: ‘It is likely the overall costs of the measures will be significantly above the amounts currently assessed’.
“So will the First Minister tell us now how much this is really going to cost Scottish taxpayers?”
Responding to the question, the First Minister said the plans were needed to end the current “postcode lottery” around social care.
He said: “What I would say to Douglas Ross is he was one of the first to call for us to pause the National Care Service so we do engage with local government, so we do engage with trade unions.
“We are doing that in order to hopefully find a level of compromise in the National Care Service legislation which would allow us to take that forward with hopefully a level of consensus.
“Depending on what that compromise is will determine whether there are any changes to a revised financial memorandum.”
He said once that engagement takes place over the summer, the Government will ensure an updated estimate is given.
But the Scottish Tory leader said Audit Scotland was clear that current estimates are too low.
“It turns out from that feeble answer that didn’t address the point the First Minister has no idea what it is really going to cost,” he said.
“He is throwing public money away when front-line social care services are in desperate need of more funding.
“The SNP could be investing to improve these local services.
“Instead they are creating a bureaucratic nightmare and want a blank check to do it.”
Ross attacked the nearly £2m the Scottish Government has so far spent on consultants around the national care legislation. £12.3m in total was spent on planning the service in the 2022-23 financial year.
He asked: “Is the First Minister paying consultants a fortune to tell him what everyone knows: his plans are woeful and they won’t work?”
Yousaf replied: “It is no surprise that a national care service plan that puts fair work at the heart of it, that puts sectoral bargaining at the heart of it is wholly opposed by the Conservative Party.”
The SNP leader said the plans were needed as the Scottish Government seeks to mitigate the impact of Brexit.
“Once again the Scottish Government is having to pick up the pieces,” he said.
“Once again the Scottish Government is having to mitigate the woeful decisions made by a cruel Tory government.”
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