FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon urged to take action over Scotland’s social care crisis

Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to take action over Scotland's social care crisis, amid claims the workforce has been "ignored, overstretched and undervalued".

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar warned there were “serious risks” if the issue was not dealt with soon, and called for "our front-line heroes" to be rewarded with a better pay boost.

The First Minister also came under pressure over “big, private sector consultancy firms” being handed lucrative contacts linked to the development of a National Care Service and defended the awarding of deals to firms such as KPMG.

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It comes after Audit Scotland released a report warning there were “huge challenges facing the sustainability of social care”, saying reform “cannot wait” for the Government to set up its planned National Care Service within this five-year parliamentary term.

Concerns have been raised over the pressures facing the social care sector

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Mr Sarwar called the report a "stark warning".

He said the coronavirus pandemic has had a "devastating impact", adding: “Less than 1 per cent of our population live in a care home, yet they account for a third of all Covid deaths."

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Mr Sarwar said: “The SNP have been in Government for 15 years – there is no one else to blame.

“A social care sector neglected before the pandemic, failed during the pandemic.

“A workforce ignored, overstretched and undervalued.

“Those in need of care at home neglected and struggling to cope.

“Unpaid carers, disproportionately women, carrying the burden of this Government’s failures.

“We have been calling for a National Care Service for over a decade, but it can’t now be used as a Government slogan to delay action until 2026.

"Carers and those who need the care can’t wait another four years."

Mr Sarwar called on the First Minister to restart respite services, pause commissioning to focus on the delivery of social care and end non-residential care charges.

He insisted the workforce should also get a "pay increase they deserve”, arguing the planned rise of 48p an hour “simply won’t cut it".

Ms Sturgeon said this was an increase of 12.9 per cent compared to March 2021, adding: "Does that go far enough? No, and we have said that we want it to go further."

She said there was an "urgent need" for social care reform, adding: "That is what we are taking forward through the proposals for a National Care Service."

The First Minister said: "In the meantime, we are increasing investment in social care.

"We are increasing the pay of those who work in social care because recruitment and retention and the valuing of the social care workforce is an important part of what we need to do."

Ms Sturgeon said the Government will increase investment in social care by 25 per cent over this parliamentary term.

She said: "We recognise the need for action immediately. We are taking action immediately.

"We are also working with partners to attract more people into the sector."

She said Brexit and the end of free movement posed "significant" challenges.

Auditor General Stephen Boyle previously said Scotland “cannot wait another five years until the planned National Care Service is in place”.

He said: “Action must happen now, and at speed, by the Scottish Government."

Elsewhere, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie raised concerns over outsourcing, an issue that has been repeatedly highlighted by The Scotsman.

She said: “How disappointing that so far £700,000 has been outsourced to big private sector consultancy firms to develop the National Care Service.

"KPMG alone awarded a contract of half a million pounds to develop the business case, and now I discover that the private sector is lining up to benefit from a multi-million pound contract for IT and data services for the National Care Service.”

She added: “Why is the First Minister using private sector consultancies when there is a wealth of expertise in the social care sector that understands what needs to be done?

"And finally, why can the First Minister find millions of pounds for private sector contracts, but hard-working social care workers have to settle for a measly 48p pay rise?”

Ms Sturgeon responded: “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 that too.”

She said one of the contracts was to analyse consultation responses, adding: “It’s routine for analysis of consultation responses to be undertaken independently.

"This work is often put out to an open, fair procurement process, and actually that very independence is normally considered a good thing.”

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