No reason to pause National Care Service Bill, says Scottish minister

There is no cause for pausing the National Care Service Bill until there is more detail on the finances of the new service, a minister has told MSPs.

The plan to merge social care services into a national body has been described as the most significant reform to public services since the creation of the NHS.

However, auditors and other experts have said they have concerns around the financial implications of the change, saying the final price tag is unclear.

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Social care minister Kevin Stewart spoke to Holyrood’s finance committee on Tuesday, saying further details on the finances would be forthcoming.

The National Care Service Bill, which is making its way through the Scottish Parliament, would transfer social care responsibility from local authorities to a new, national service, overseen by ministers
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He has previously acknowledged some stakeholders feel “discontent”, but said there was overwhelming support for the changes from people who rely on social care.

Mr Stewart told the committee the process of “co-designing” the legislation with other organisations meant certain financial assumptions could not be made right now.

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He said: “If we were to make assumptions on some of these issues at this moment in time, we would probably rightly be accused of having already made our minds up around about certain aspects of what we want to do as we move forward. And that’s not what we’re about, this co-design is not lip service.”

Conservative MSP Liz Smith said parliamentarians did not have enough information to properly scrutinise the Government’s plans.

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She asked: “Do you accept that there is a cause to pause this until there is more detail than is before us just now?”

Mr Stewart said he did not, adding: “What some other folk want at the moment is detail around aspects of the costs in terms of delivery of services.”

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He continued: “It would be wrong to make those assumptions around those costs, because the people involved in the co-design would say they have already made their minds up about how they are going to progress with this, because they have attached a financial cost to this already.”

Mr Stewart said the Government was in conversations with researchers at the Fraser of Allander Institute, while Cosla had made assumptions about the costs of the changes, which he did not recognise.

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Ms Smith said the financial memorandum associated with the Bill was the “weakest” she had ever seen in Parliament.

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