The Scottish Government’s plan for a new national care service could destabilise rural and island economies and force people to move, according to a series of warnings in a nationwide consultation.
Concerns are being raised by public sector membership group Solace as part of a major shake-up of care in Scotland.
The SNP Government is looking at a universal system of child and adult social care, comparing it with health care through the NHS.
It has been welcomed by some as an attempt to bring more public control into an area with major private interests, underlined by the pressures of the Covid pandemic.
But council leaders claim the proposal also “cuts through the heart” of local governance in Scotland.
In their response to a consultation, Solace highlighted specific problems for the Highlands and islands.
The warnings, seen by us, point out local authorities are often the biggest employer in jobs such as social care.
Those services are then linked to maintaining local economies.
The government said a centrally run National Care Service will provide consistency, equity and fairness.
We are at the beginning of a journey to improve social care in Scotland. We will only get this right with your support.”
– Scottish Government social minister Kevin Stewart
It is currently planned, commissioned and delivered by a mix of public, independent and charitable groups.
Solace said there is “risk of depopulation” in more remote areas if services are not available locally, which would “destabilise” economies.
The group also warns additional overheads from a new employer might divert resources.
What problems are being identified?
A Solace Scotland spokesman said: “The creation of a national care service is such a huge undertaking, creating such major structural change, that some negative unintended consequences are inevitable.
“We want to help the Scottish Government avoid those unintended consequences using our experience on the ground. One of these relates to care provision in the islands.
“The sparseness of island communities and the relative lack of private provision makes local authority provision uniquely critical.
“The removal of local control could place island care services at real risk, island communities are unique and a one size fits all model based on the needs of urban communities is unlikely to meet the needs of rural and island communities.”
‘Attack on localism’
The group’s fears are similar to concerns raised by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities when the consultation was opened in August.
Their president, councillor Alison Evison, said: “It is an attack on localism and on the rights of local people to make decisions democratically for their place.
“It once again brings a centralising approach to how decisions which should be taken locally are made.”
Announcing the consultation, Scottish Government minister Kevin Stewart said: “We will review the systems, remove unwarranted duplication of functions and make best use of the public purse.
“I want to ensure that the new service is designed around the needs of those who access services and supports the needs of the workforce.
“My priority is that the interests of those who use and deliver social care are firmly at the heart of decision making in building a stronger system.
“We are at the beginning of a journey to improve social care in Scotland. We will only get this right with your support.”