The new Scottish parliament convened on 12 May 1999 and took up its
full legislative powers that July.
Its impact since then has been extraordinary, according to
statutory and voluntary organisations in Scotland.
In its first term it introduced a raft of community care
legislation. Seizing the opportunity to stamp community care on the
agenda, the new members of the Scottish parliament consulted a
representative group of key stakeholders, including the Association
of Directors of Social Work (ADSW), housing agencies and Community
Care Providers Scotland.
The group was pleasantly surprised. It was clear from the outset
that the intention of the parliament was to concentrate on social
care and put into place far-reaching legislation that hitherto
Westminster had failed to implement.
The leap from 72 MPs in London to 129 MSPs in Edinburgh heralded
greater accessibility and a more transparent system of government
Previously, ministers who had devoted much of their time to UK
matters were now able to concentrate on Scotland.
True, some matters are still the preserve of Westminster. This was
evident recently in the row over the detention of children in the
Dungavel immigration centre near Strathaven. On the basis that
matters of immigration lie with the UK government, Scotland’s first
minister, Jack McConnell, maintained a resolute silence on the
matter, to the surprise of many. By now familiar with being in
charge of their own agenda, it seemed odd to defer to Whitehall in
matters of social care once again.
Political parties in Scotland set out their manifestos only after
full consultation with local authorities, the public sector and the
unions. There is now much more interaction between these
organisations and the Scottish parliament than before devolution,
which in turn allows more scope for legislation. And devolution has
brought much more legislation.
Previously, there were one or two wholly Scottish pieces of
legislation each year going through Westminster. Now there are
between 20 and 30 bills each year. Quantity cannot always make up
for quality but few would argue this is not an improvement and the
new legislation has had an impact.
A minister for health and community care was created immediately
and new legislation, including the Adults with Incapacity Act 2000,
Regulation of Care Act 2001 and the Community Care and Health Act
2002, quickly followed.
Annie Gunner, co-ordinator of Community Care Providers Scotland,
supports the executive making community care one its main
priorities. “It was extraordinary. The process was accessible,” she
says. “We were invited to give evidence and there was a willingness
on the part of the various parliamentary committees and the
executive to engage with us.”
Professor Paul Spicker, of the Centre for Public Policy and
Management at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, says new
legislation was needed because Scotland was trailing England in the
development of community care.
In particular, this criticism related to older people and the
provision of private residential care. Private sector provision
bloomed while regulation and inspection proved ineffective at
weeding out unsuitable providers.
The new Care Commission, created under the Regulation of Care Act,
was one among a number of new regulatory bodies brought in by
Mike Rumbles MSP, the Liberal Democrats spokesperson for health and
community care, says devolution has had a dramatic effect on social
care. He cites the introduction of free personal care for older
people as one issue that has had a significant impact.
A new working group involving public, voluntary and private
providers is looking at anomalies in funding for residential care
in Scotland. A report is due in the autumn into the true cost of
More recently, the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have included
an antisocial behaviour bill in their manifestos. After a
consultation paper was produced last June, meetings were held
throughout Scotland during the summer involving the first minister
and the ministers for communities and justice. The bill is planned
to be introduced by the end of this month, after which voluntary
organisations, statutory bodies and local authorities will be
invited to give evidence to the executive.
Given that Scotland has had the children’s hearing system for the
past 30 years it will be interesting to watch the progress of the
bill through parliament.
Kingsley Thomas, executive member for health and social work at
Edinburgh Council, agrees that there has been a huge focus on
social care and social work issues during the first four years of
devolution. This is set to continue in to the second term with an
emphasis on youth justice, the health service review and, more
recently, new child protection legislation in the form of the
Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003.
Thomas says, although the focus on social care can be seen as
positive, it has placed strains and pressures on local authorities,
health care providers and voluntary organisations to keep up with
the rate of change and service delivery. This has come at a time
when there is a national focus on the recruitment and retention of
staff in social work and health. It is accepted that these
shortages would have occurred irrespective of legislative change.
But the pain is all the more acute for its timing.
Devolution has, however, seen a complex relationship develop
between the executive and councils.
A British Association of Social Workers Scotland spokesperson says
local government has had to rise to the challenge of the
legislative agenda laid down by the Scottish parliament. She adds:
“The executive needs to listen to local authorities who have
experience of providing good quality services in the field of
statutory responsibility and social care. Criminal justice social
work services are a prime example of this.” Thomas agrees and says
there is “still scope for development” in the relationship between
the executive and local authorities.
The voluntary sector is also being used as a source for information
by MSPs and the executive, according to Scottish Association for
Mental Health director of policy Richard Norris. In turn, he says,
this has led to a huge increase in demand on services from the
public and voluntary sector: “Partnership working has become more
successful in recent years. The establishment of a Scottish
parliament has undoubtedly led to increased political and media
scrutiny of social care and health services.”
The new Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 is
an example of increased partnership working between the Scottish
statutory and voluntary sectors. ADSW president Duncan MacAulay
says the new act represents “the most positive aspects” of having a
Scottish parliament, which is “closer to the issues Scottish people
He adds: “Parliament has demonstrated its commitment to involving a
range of stakeholders. As a result of the involvement and
consultation of mental health services users, carers and
professionals the new act is a highly progressive piece of
Devolution has led to Scotland having direct political control over
and democratic accountability on social care matters. However,
cynics argue this was because the new MSPs had to learn quickly
about what mattered.
The prime example of where Scotland has forged ahead over the rest
of the UK was in the care of older people. New legislation has
pushed full-speed ahead, leaving some care providers running to
So what is the future of social care in a devolved Scotland?
Spicker says: “It is difficult to know what direction we are
heading with issues of social care; much of it is untested. We are
heading for interesting times.”