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by Louise Wilson
28 February 2024
National Care Service Bill to proceed despite scrutiny concerns

Jackie Baillie is Scottish Labour's health spokesperson | Alamy

National Care Service Bill to proceed despite scrutiny concerns

Labour’s bid to stop the National Care Service (NCS) Bill from progressing through parliament has been thwarted after MSPs voted down a motion laid by Jackie Baillie

The Scottish Labour health spokesperson raised concerns about a lack of scrutiny ahead of the stage one debate scheduled for Thursday. 

Despite backing the creation of an NCS, Baillie said details about substantive amendments planned for the bill had not been forthcoming, meaning committees had been “unable to scrutinise” it. 

But social care minister Maree Todd insisted delaying the legislation was not in the best interests of those who require social care. 

MSPs voted by 64 to 52 against Baillie’s motion which would have seen the bill referred back to the parliament’s health committee for further scrutiny. 

The proposed legislation is a framework bill, setting out the structures of a new NCS. 

It was backed last week by the parliament’s health committee, despite several members warning that the government is unable to “articulate and communicate” how the NCS would work in practice. The membership of the committee is majority SNP/Green. 

As is currently stands, the bill would transfer social care responsibility from councils to the new service. 

However, after consider blowback from local government, ministers agreed to scrap that plan and instead create a national oversight board with councils still tasked with delivering social care. Amendments to that effect would be laid at later stages. 

Baillie criticised the “backroom deal” made between council body Cosla and the Scottish Government over the bill, and added that “the committee has been unable to scrutinise this as the Scottish Government has been unwilling to share its amendments before stage 2.” 

She added: “This parliament’s history has too many examples of legislation which lay on the statute books simply incapable of being enacted because it is such a mess – like the Hate Crime Act passed in 2021 but not yet enacted, or legislation that is sadly challenged in the courts because there was insufficient scrutiny of evidence.

“The National Care Service, frankly, is too important to get wrong.”

A Scottish Conservative amendment expressing concern about the cost of the bill was also voted down. 

The parliament’s finance committee has repeatedly expressed concern about the true cost of the legislation. 

Conservative health spokesman Sandesh Gulhane said the bill was “far from ready” for a stage 1 debate, and he accused the Scottish Government of being “secretive” about its plans. 

He added: “We were unable and still are unable to ask appropriate questions due to unseen changes the government are making. Why not just let us see the bill in full detail?” 

But Todd insisted the bill will improve the delivery of social care in Scotland and said it was “disappointing” that the opposition parties were seeking to delay it. 

After the bill was paused in 2023, the Scottish Government committed to further consultation with committees which Todd said made it “one of the most expensively scrutinised bills ever to go through the Scottish Parliament”. 

The minister added: “People need change and they are telling us they need it now. Of the many thousands of people we have spoken to who are trying to access social care in Scotland now, none are telling me slow down. Everyone is telling me to speed up. 

“We will ensure the parliamentary process is robust – but we are letting people down if we spend our time in parliament getting tangled up in procedural delay instead of talking about the substantive issues that impact on people’s lives.” 

The NCS is not set to be established until 2028-29, a delay of three years from the initial plan. Ministers said this delay was because they needed more time to work with local government colleagues. 

Baillie’s attempt to refer the bill back to the committee is only the second time in parliament’s history this mechanism has been used. 

The first was when MSPs voted to refer the St Andrews Day Bank Holiday Bill back in 2005. This was a private members bill and it was a government minister who led that debate. 

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