The Scottish Trade Unions Council (STUC) criticised the award of the contract to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), accusing the company of having a “vested interest in privatised provision”.
Establishing a National Care Service is a key Scottish Government policy for the coming Holyrood term, with the service due to be fully up and running by 2026.
Nicola Sturgeon said the reform would be a “fitting legacy from the trauma of Covid” and would be the “most significant public service reform” since the establishment of the NHS.
However, the planned service has been criticised by councils as stripping away powers held by local authorities, while others have said the plans will not see a NHS-style service that is free at the point of use.
Work within the government on the National Care Service is still at an early stage, with the consultation on the plans released to the public in August, with a closing date of November.
The PwC contract – for which the consultancy firm was the only bidder – will see the company work on a plan to set up a “agile design team for National Care Service” and produce a “high-level road map for design milestones”.
The firm will also be asked to create a “stakeholder map and strategy”, which would outline “key contact and sponsorship teams required for design and business case development”.
Reacting, the STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said it was not clear why the expertise of the civil service was not being used.
She said: “Whilst this is only a small contract, beginnings matter.
"We will vigorously oppose any move towards outsourcing the vital project of creating a National Care Service to companies with a vested interest in privatised provision.
"We note that there was only one bidder for the contract. We also see no reason why the skills and expertise of directly employed civil servants are not being utilised.
"South of the border, the past year has seen the continued growth of the consultancy gravy train, with massive contracts awarded to companies with clear interests in private sector provision of public services. We do not want this replicated in Scotland.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie also criticised the contract.
She said: “It is deeply troubling to see this contract to design the National Care Service being handed to a single private sector bidder.
"Serious questions need to be asked about the procedure surrounding the tendering of the contract and why only one private sector body formalised a bid.
"But perhaps of more significance, why is there not the expertise within the public sector – in health and social care or with the army of civil servants in Edinburgh?
"If we are to have a National Care Service worthy of the name, then care users, social care workers, the third sector and experts must be at its heart."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “PWC have a contract to support the setup of the Design Authority programme management structure to support the introduction of a National Care Service, pending the findings of the consultation.
“This award is for programme set up only to help underpin our efforts in ensuring that the design, governance and structure of planning for any the National Care Service builds on best practice principles for outcome focused, person-centred design.
"The contract has been awarded through an existing national Framework and offers the best balance of cost and quality.”