National care service would ‘further deplete’ powers of local authorities, warns academic

The proposed National Care Service would “further deplete” the powers of local government, an academic has warned.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on setting up the service, which they aim to replace adult social care, along with other fields such as drug and alcohol services, children’s services and social work.

Most of the functions proposed for the new service were performed by local government.

Professor David Bell (pictured), of Stirling University, told Holyrood’s Health Committee the new project would further centralise responsibility in Scotland, as has previously been done with the police force and fire service.

“I do worry a little bit around what that leaves for local government because their functions would be further depleted as a result of this,” he said.

“It seems to me that there is an issue around attracting people into local government, both in terms of professionals and elected members and as the functions are drawn away the attractiveness of that route seems to me to be potentially declining and would need some further investigation it seems to me.”

He added: “We are a relatively centralised country and further centralisation always seems like an issue that ought to be considered very carefully on democratic grounds.”

Mr Bell is not the only one to raise concerns about local government in the wake of the proposals.

The president of local authority body Cosla, Alison Evison, said the change could represent the biggest reform to the public sector in decades.

“It is important there is transparency about what this could mean in reality,” she said earlier this month.

Ms Evison’s vice president, Graham Houston, claimed the proposals for the new service “came out of nowhere”.

He went on to say that, if local authorities believe they will not be responsible for services in the future, they may divert funding.

“They are politicians and they will take decisions accordingly. So if it’s not the responsibility any more, the money will follow where the responsibility still lies, so there is a danger that the top-up funding which goes into the delivery of care right now will be diverted elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, Derek Feeley, who was commissioned by the Scottish Government to launch a review into adult social care in Scotland, told the committee he hoped progress to improve the sector would not be stalled while the National Care Service is being set up.

“While it will take some time, no doubt, for a National Care Service to be established, I don’t think that necessarily needs to mean we don’t do any work to improve social care in the interim,” he said.

“And, indeed, I very much hope that we will get on and do some of the things that can be done without the legislation during the course of the absolutely necessary path of any legislative vehicle.”

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