National Care Service plans at risk of being 'unforgivably weakened' by private consultant spending

Radical plans for a National Care Service are at risk of being “unforgivably weakened” by private consultants, it has been warned, as it was revealed £1.6 million has been spent on external firms to help design the reform.

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Scottish Labour said the spending demonstrated the lack of trust placed in the care sector by the Scottish Government and accused ministers of ensuring the National Care Service will be shaped by the private sector, rather than social care users and staff. Trade unions said the use of private consultants threatens to “unforgivably weaken the entire foundations of the programme”, while the Scottish Government claimed it “makes sense” to “free up” the civil service by hiring consultants in this manner.

The Bill’s proposals would see responsibility for social care services shifted from local councils to care boards, similar to NHS health boards, with the Scottish Government accountable for their performance. However, unions and council leaders have heavily criticised the plans as a power grab and the latest example of centralisation by the Government.

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Figures obtained by Scottish Labour demonstrate the scale of the involvement of private sector consultancy firms, with £1.6m spent by ministers on their advice for the service. This includes more than half a million to scandal-hit KPMG, which was asked to produce a “target operating model” for the National Care Service, and almost £350,000 to IT consultancy firm Capgemini for research to help “inform design decisions”.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson and deputy leader, said the spending demonstrated the lack of ideas and vision for the National Care Service within the Government. She said: “The facts are clear for all to see – the SNP does not have a clue what they are doing with a National Care Service and have to call on private consultants to help them out. Serious questions need to be asked over why the SNP do not believe that there is the expertise within the public sector – in health and social care – or with the army of civil servants in Edinburgh to carry out this work.

“After ignoring the protests of trade unions, the voluntary sector and frontline workers for over a year, it is obvious that the SNP is only interested in pursuing a centralised National Care Service that is shaped by the private sector. It will end up being a glorified commissioning service rather than one that is focused on the quality of care. If we are to have a National Care Service worthy of the name, then care users and social care staff must be at its very heart."

The criticisms follow SNP MSPs heavily criticising the financial plans for the reform – billed as the most significant reform to public services since the creation of the NHS – during a committee hearing in the Scottish Parliament. Two MSPs, Michelle Thomson and Kenneth Gibson, who later rebelled against the party’s gender recognition reforms, complained of a “deeply worrying” lack of detail around the service’s funding. Ms Thomson said there was a risk of MSPs signing a “blank cheque for the public purse”, while Mr Gibson labelled the Bill a “monumental risk”.

Pushed on the comments at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon insisted the reform was the “right way to go”. The SNP leader said she would “listen very carefully to points made and views expressed” during the Bill’s scrutiny in Parliament.

The Scottish Government has been criticised for its planned National Care Service reformThe Scottish Government has been criticised for its planned National Care Service reform
The Scottish Government has been criticised for its planned National Care Service reform

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said spending money on private consultants was an “all too shockingly familiar move” by the Scottish Government. She said: “However, to do this in the building of our new National Care Service – the crown jewel of the SNP manifesto – threatens to unforgivably weaken the entire foundations of the programme.

“We cannot have private industry building the framework for Scotland’s new social care model. The National Care Service could – and should – be a transformative programme for Scotland’s social care system. Our movement stands ready to realise that vision and we would invite the Scottish Government to join us.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the establishment of the National Care Service (NCS) would be a “very complex process” and would help end the “postcode lottery of care”. They also rejected the suggestion the contracts involved consultancy firms “designing or delivering any aspect” of the reform.

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The spokesperson said: “Where it makes sense to use external expertise to free up civil servants to focus on the policy development and implementation, we will do that, as other governments do. We procured both PwC and KPMG’s specialist services to advise us on how best to make sure that we remain focused on outcomes and people whilst we establish the National Care Service. Neither contract involved these companies designing or delivering any aspect of the National Care Service.

“The opportunities to develop social care support are an investment in the future of Scotland. This investment is not only for the people who use social care support and those who work in the sector, but for our society and for the type of country we want to be.

“As we build the NCS, we will listen to the voices of the real experts – those who use services or who work to provide them. They need to help us scale up good practice and identify where things need to be done differently. Designing the framework in collaboration with people ensures it will fit the needs of our unique communities, take account of geographical differences, and consider the needs of people who face additional barriers to engaging with the Scottish Government.”

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