Pause The Bill

Nick Kempe – Common Weal Care Reform Group

Today Common Weal, along with the Scottish Trade Union Congress, has launched a joint letter to the First Minister calling for the National Care Service Bill to be paused. Since Common Weal supported calls from the Trade Unions to pause the bill at the beginning of December many other organisations have done the same. Until now, however, smaller organisations have had a limited opportunity to make their views known and there has been very little joint action. The idea behind the letter, which you can read here, is to change that and to show the Scottish Government the degree of concern across Scotland.

The NCS Bill has now been considered by various Committees of the Scottish Parliament and MSPs should now be aware that there is very little enthusiasm or support for it in its current form. The hearings of the Finance and Public Administration Committee received a large amount of media coverage, not least because SNP MSP Michelle Thomson broke ranks and made some scathing comments.

The Committee’s report on the Financial Memorandum accompanying the bill, published at the beginning of December, was highly critical about the absence of costings. It highlighted the absence of costs for the creation of the new service, including VAT liability, transfer of assets and staff and the creation of a health and social care record, as well as the proposal to introduce major policies “via secondary legislation or business cases which cannot be subject to the same in-depth and formal financial scrutiny as Financial Memorandums to bills”. It called on the Scottish Government to provide the necessary financial details at least two weeks prior to the Stage 1 consideration of the bill in March – giving very little time for any outside organisation to comment/brief MSPs

The majority report published last Friday here from the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee – don’t be put off by the name – added to the concerns about the lack of information and that the Scottish Government is “setting a dangerous precedent, undermining the role of the parliament.” Its reason for concluding this (the two SNP MSPs on the Committee dissented) was:

The Committee is concerned there is insufficient detail on the face of the Bill and within the Bill documents to allow for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. Given the far-reaching nature of the proposed reforms the Committee is mindful there is a real risk of letting down those the Bill is intended to help by allowing Scottish Government ministers to use delegated powers instead of primary legislation to introduce core and as yet unknown provisions. The Committee believes the current approach significantly reduces the threshold for parliamentary approval and prevents MSPs from bringing forward detailed amendments”.

Far from increasing democratic control over care services, as we advocated in Caring for All, the NCS Bill is now threatening to undermine democracy, whether at the local level by removing control from local authorities, or at the national level by handing unprecedented powers to Scottish Ministers.

The Scottish Government needs to have a fundamental re-think about what it is proposing and how its engaging with civic society while at the same time secretly working with KPMG to design the Target Operating Model for the NCS. If you are part of an organisation which has a stake in the future of social work and social care in Scotland, please ask them to support the letter. As an individual, please also consider contacting your MSPs asking them to support the call for a pause.

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