Humza Yousaf would overhaul National Care Service plan if elected as first minister
Health secretary Humza Yousaf has said he would be open to overhauling his plan to create a National Care Service if he wins the race to become Scotland’s next first minister.
Yousaf unveiled the plan, which would bring adult social care under the control of a single, NHS-style service managed by local boards, last year, calling it the “most ambitious reform of public services since the creation of the NHS”.
The intention is for the centralised service, which is expected to cost half a billion pounds to deliver, to be up and running end of 2026, at which point local authorities would no longer have responsibility for social care.
The plan was immediately criticised by opposition parties, who accused the Scottish Government of attempting to grab power from local authorities as part of a project that would divert vast sums of public money away from services to fund set-up and administrative costs.
More recently organisations including the Scottish TUC, Parkinson's UK and Common Weal warned of their “serious concern” about the draft legislation and have called for it to be immediately paused.
Similarly, the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee and Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee have raised concerns that there is not enough detail in the National Care Service Bill to enable them to properly scrutinise the plan.
Yousaf, who unveiled his campaign to replace Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader earlier this week, told Holyrood that he would be willing to overhaul the bill should his bid prove successful.
“I’m willing to work with those who oppose the current plan to see if the there are some areas where we could compromise,” he said.
Yesterday fellow leadership candidate Ash Regan, the former community safety minister who stood down from government in protest over its gender reforms, said she would immediately pause the National Care Service plan if her bid to become first minister is successful, noting that she is “100 per cent committed to this ground-breaking policy but it must create a care service worthy of the name”.
“That means it must be led by care experts, respect local government, be delivered locally and provide a universal service for all Scots who need it,” she said.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie welcomed the news that two candidates are willing to look at the bill, calling Yousaf's comments a "welcome U-turn from the health minister".
“After months of denying that there is any issue with this botched bill, it is encouraging to hear that Mr Yousaf has finally heeded the calls made by Scottish Labour, Cosla, the trade union movement, care providers, carers and those receiving care," she said.
“With Humza Yousaf now the second leadership candidate to admit that there are issues with this bill, it is all too clear that it should be paused and redesigned in consultation with stakeholders."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said it is "little wonder" Yousaf is open to compromise "given the sheer volume of organisations and experts lining up to criticise the National Care Service".
Yousaf, who is currently vying against Regan and finance secretary Kate Forbes for the leadership post, said he also intends to look at other policy areas to see whether the government’s focus needs to shift.
“Nicola Sturgeon has got us to a place where the party and the independence movement are at dizzying heights and a lot of the policies like The Promise and the work done on Social Security Scotland are very close to my heart,” he said.
“I’ll be laying out [policy plans] in the next few days, but we’re talking about issues that really matter to people like the cost-of-living crisis and how to grow the economy. [It’s about] what we need to accelerate and what we need to slow down.”
Earlier this month Holyrood published exclusive polling carried out by Tory party donor Lord Ashcroft that found the Scottish public believes the Scottish Government’s priorities are out of step with their own.
When asked which three issues they thought Sturgeon and her administration were most concerned with, respondents named the top three as Scottish independence (65 per cent), followed by gender recognition and trans rights (46 per cent), and health and the NHS (22 per cent).
In contrast, respondents said their own key priorities were health and the NHS (62 per cent), the cost of living (57 per cent), and the economy and jobs (27 per cent). Gender recognition and trans rights scored at three per cent, while independence came out at 14 per cent – lower than the figure for “keeping Scotland in the UK” (16 per cent).
Yousaf said he had seen the poll and found it “quite insightful”.
“There doesn’t have to be a conflict and I don’t view a conflict between pursuing social issues and issues of equality and tackling the cost-of-living crisis, but we have to make sure we don’t allow one issue to dominate the entirety of our parliamentary time,” he said.