MAJOR fears have been expressed by SNP MSPs about the “financial wraparound” of their own government’s National Care Service (NCS) Bill, as the policy was described as a “sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

The Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee tore into government officials on Tuesday morning during a debate over the financial memorandum as they criticised a lack of clarity within it. 

Legislation to establish an NCS was published earlier this year, but ministers have stressed it is only a “framework”.

The bill would centralise £4.3 billion of public spending – one third of Scottish councils’ total budget – and will aim to improve the consistency and quality of social care services.

It has already proved extremely contentious, with many councils unhappy about the centralisation of services they feel they should be close to.

And officials faced further criticism on Tuesday as committee convener Kenneth Gibson described the bill as a “monumental risk”.

He said: “It’s like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. If there’s an issue in consistency and quality, then that should be addressed directly.

“Where are these problems of quality and consistency? Name, shame. Would it not just be easier to ensure that duties are imposed to make sure they do uplift their standards?

“It seems to me to be a monumental risk to have a bill of this nature because there are a few service deliverers who are not up to scratch.”

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A table within the financial memorandum document shows wide-ranging estimates for the costs of bill provisions.

It states in 2022-23, the total estimated costs of bill provisions could be anything between £24 million and £36m, and there are even larger gaps projected for the following years.

In 2025-26 for example, the estimated cost range is £232m to £477m.

The National revealed earlier this month that Scottish councils will have to bid against private companies to continue to provide care services under the government’s plans. 

Unlike the similarly named National Health Service (NHS), the NCS will not see services nationalised by the Government. Instead, councils and firms will bid to provide care services to a standard set by ministers and overseen by local health boards.

The National: Michelle Thomson said the financial memorandum was 'deeply worrying'Michelle Thomson said the financial memorandum was 'deeply worrying' (Image: PA)

SNP MSP Michelle Thomson said she was “surprised by the complete lack of fundamentals” in the financial memorandum and said she had no confidence in its accuracy.

She told the committee: “How did we get to this point? I am surprised by the complete lack of fundamentals in the financial memorandum.

“I would like to understand why. I understand a financial memorandum is required to be produced alongside a bill, but how did we get to a position where the financial memorandum doesn’t even begin to cover the fundamentals?

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“For us as a committee, speaking personally, I can have no confidence whatsoever based on my experience mostly in business that the financial memorandum represents any level of accuracy. How did we get here?

“I feel as though I am looking at a blank cheque for the public purse and I find that deeply worrying.”

Donna Bell, director of social care and National Care Service development, denied there were any issues with the way the bill had been developed and said risks were being taken into account.

She said: “The risks are very much at the front of our minds.

“We are absolutely aware of and actively managing the risks associated with this programme.

“What people talk to us about is the opportunities we can achieve through the development of this work. The feedback at the forum and in other discussions that we’ve had is that there is a huge opportunity here to develop services that really work for people and that is what we want to set out to do, maximise those opportunities while managing the risks.

“The independent review of adult social care reported and set out a series of recommendations and suggested significant change. The current government committed to the development of the NCS and committed to doing that in a way that was co-designed with people, people who work in the system and people that use social care services. The implementation gap set out in the review is incredibly important.”

When asked if she had been pushed to bring the financial memorandum forward, Bell said: “No.”