COUNCIL leaders have warned that vital funding for frontline services could be put at risk under “mammoth” plans to create a National Care Service.
Cosla, the umbrella group for Scottish local authorities, has issued a stark warning after SNP ministers gave them “a few hours’ notice” before revealing their plans will see addiction support and children’s services swept up in proposals to set up a centralised system on the same footing as the NHS.
Nicola Sturgeon has not shied away from the widescale overhaul her National Care Service plans involve – labelling it “the biggest public sector reform that Parliament will ever have undertaken”.
But ministers have been warned that funding in the coming years for key services including social care and drug and alcohol addiction could be put at risk – while lessons must be learned from the problematic formation of Police Scotland.
Under the Scottish Government plans, a National Care Service will provide equal standards of care across the country and will cover adult social care services “at a minimum”.
But a consultation document published earlier this month revealed the scope of the project could be extended to a host of other services – after Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance told MSPs before the summer recess that addiction services could be included in response to calls for improved rehabilitation.
Cosla president Alison Evison acknowledged there are “frustrations with the current system”, but has warned “there’s a real need to have open, considered and transparent conversations about proposed reforms of the scale that we have in front of us”.
She said: “Local government was surprised by the expanded scope of the proposals to include children’s services, community justice, alcohol and drugs services, social work and elements of mental health services.
“The consultation contains very little by way of costings relating to the development of the proposed National Care Service or how it would be funded and limited evidence to support the proposals. We believe this is of really critical importance.”
Ms Evison added that if the plans are pushed forward, it will represent “the biggest reform of the public sector in decades”.
She has warned that “changes of this mammoth scale” need “constructive and comprehensive joint working” rather than “simply rushing to structural change”.
The Cosla president acknowledged that the Scottish Government is unlikely to withdraw its 12-week consultation but stressed she “would like a longer period of time to discuss it”.
She added that while lengthy discussions are held over setting up a National Care Service, funding for existing social care and addiction services, already under heavy strain, “would be very much in jeopardy”.
Cosla’s resources spokesperson, Gail Macgregor, said that a loss of funding for key services in the interim was “a very realistic challenge”.
She said: “If councils need to invest…they are going to be thinking twice about doing that if there’s 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 users and the potential of the delivery of services.”
Ms Macgregor added: “If we’d been sufficiently funded to date and we hadn’t had the budget cuts that we’ve had over the last 10 years, we might be delivering the service they want us to be delivering.
“It is a frustration to us now that money is suddenly being put potentially on the table, which actually could have resolved a lot of these issues over the last five to 10 years.”
Cosla’s vice president, Graham Houston, who was part of the police authority board that helped to set up Scotland’s single force, has stressed that mistakes cannot be repeated.
He said: “We have seen in the past, other national organisations formed in Scotland which has been done quickly and at pace and we’ve paid the price for that and had to take time to recover.
“I think it’s crucial we must learn from those examples.”
He added: “It was intimated that it would cost about £600m to implement this. From our point of view – you want to see improvements in delivery of care services, give us £600m – we can do that.
“If it’s not our responsibility any longer then the money will follow where the responsibility still lies. There is a danger that the top-up funding that goes into the delivery of care right now will be diverted elsewhere – it’s natural.”
In launching the consultation earlier this month, Social Care Minister Kevin Stewart, stressed his government wished “to look beyond simply beyond the creation of a national service for adult social care”.
He added: “The ambition of this government is to go much further, and to create a comprehensive community health and social care service that supports people of all ages.
“We are also committed to ensuring there is strong local accountability in the system.”