Councils would still employ social workers under proposed National Care Service for Scotland

    Scottish Government, councils and NHS would hold joint accountability for national service, with authorities employing staff and being responsible for buildings, under deal

    Scottish Parliament building
    Scottish Parliament building (photo: Heartland Arts/Adobe Stock)

    Councils would continue to employ social workers and other social work staff under the Scottish Government’s plan to establish a National Care Service across the country.

    The government’s original plan was to transfer councils’ social work functions – including staff – to the NCS, or regional care boards set up to deliver services on its behalf.

    However, it said this week it had agreed with council and NHS leaders to leave local authorities responsible for employing staff and social work buildings and assets.

    Under the new approach, councils, the NHS and the Scottish Government would share accountability for the NCS, which would initially cover adults’ services only, with the possibility in future that it would also incorporate children’s and criminal justice social work.

    Opposition to National Care Service

    The news follows widespread opposition to the plans – including from local government and social work leaders – and ministers’ decision to slow the passage of the legislation designed to bring it about, the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill.

    It now won’t have its first debate until after the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess.

    Announcing the shift this week, social care minister Maree Todd said: “The Scottish Government has been working closely with local government to find a consensus on the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill, which will allow us to deliver on the urgent improvements needed to strengthen the delivery of integrated health and social care for people.

    “This partnership between the Scottish Government, local government and the NHS helps establish where responsibility for people’s care will sit under the National Care Service. The detail of how this will work at a local level will be developed in the coming months and we will continue to update parliament on this work, along with the results of our ongoing co-design events taking place across the country, after the summer recess.”

    ‘Reduced anxiety’ for social workers’

    The Scottish Association of Social Work said that “many social workers will find this statement reduces their anxiety about their future employer”.

    National director Alison Bavidge added: “SASW welcomes the clarity on this issue given its potential to adversely affect the existing recruitment and retention crisis in social work.

    “Whilst the statement is the first step in enabling more detailed discussion around structures and governance, it does not give a clear route map for those improvements around access to support and the consistent yet tailored approaches that people in Scotland deserve from their public services.

    “Without a significant change in the way social workers spend their days, having manageable workloads, reducing the unnecessary bureaucracy and being able to deliver preventative and early support through community engagement, the system will remain primarily focussed on individuals and tasks rather than social wellbeing.”

    Agreement offers ‘comfort’ to social workers

    The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) – hitherto a fierce critic of the reform – welcomed the move and said it hoped it would reassure social workers and other staff.

    “Combining shared national accountability with local expertise ensures the right balance of further improvement across Scotland, whilst rightly reflecting the diverse needs of local communities,” said COSLA’s health and social care spokesperson, Paul Kelly.

    “We know too that successful change is driven by the valuable staff who deliver services. We hope by setting out the continued role of local authorities in delivering social care and social work functions, and staff remaining employed within councils, we offer comfort and stability to the local government workforce.”

    However, he said there “was still more to do” in relation to the reform.

    ‘Significant problems’ with proposed legislation 

    UNISON Scotland issued a similar message in response to the change.

    “The announcement that social care staff will continue to be employed by local authorities, and councils will still be responsible for assets like buildings and the delivery of services, is welcome,” said its head of local government, Johanna Baxter.

    “While recognising this first step, there are still significant problems with the National Care Service Bill. The Scottish Government and COSLA must now get around the table with us to discuss the detail of how this shared accountability arrangement will work including any new, or revised, legislation required to ensure we can build a world class social care service.”

    The bill’s proposals are designed to end the “postcode lottery” in care provision and are based on those of the Independent Review of Adult Social Care (IRASC), published in 2021, which recommended the Scottish Government create an NCS for adults’ services.

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