England & Wales, Scotland Health and social care

What will the National Care Service mean for local government in Scotland?


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LGIU’s Local Democracy Research Centre is working with experts at the University of Birmingham to investigate the potential impact of a new National Care Service in Scotland. The LDRC is set up to investigate the things that matter to our members, and the proposed centralisation of care in Scotland will have widespread implications for local authorities. Here, the Birmingham team explain the project, which will be launching very soon.

The proposed introduction of a National Care Service in Scotland involves wide-ranging reforms that will affect commissioning and access to social care and support. The National Care Service (Scotland) Bill includes a welcome commitment to human rights, to encouraging people to thrive and to enabling communities to flourish and prosper. Many operational details of the National Care Service are still to be established through secondary legislation and ministerial decisions. Therefore, it is hard to say whether the National Care Service will be successful in its aims ‘to improve the quality and consistency of social work and social care services in Scotland’.

‘Social Care’ (although the term did not arrive until recent years) has been always been a local responsibility, initially under the Poor Law, and after 1948 with elected local government. While there was a great debate about whether the National Health Service should be run by local or central government, there was no debate associated with the National Assistance Act of 1948 which stressed the advantages of services being delivered by local government. While there have been many proposals to reform social care in the UK, the National Care Service is the first serious proposal to take responsibilities away from local government.

The Bill states that responsibility for social care will be transferred from local authorities to a national service. The planning and commissioning of care will be done by local care boards, answerable to the Scottish Government. This change, if it goes ahead, will have an enormous impact on local government, which will be felt far beyond its social care function.

The proposed reforms generate a set of questions about how the shift to care boards will achieve the goals of realising human rights, supporting people to thrive and ensuring communities that flourish and prosper. In the National Care System: Statement of Benefits the importance of consistency and ending the postcode lottery is a clear theme – alongside a commitment that services that are ‘designed and delivered locally’. However, it is as yet unclear how the move to care boards will enable both consistency and local co-design. It is also unclear how the proposals will address broaden strains in the system relating to workforce shortages, provider instability and pressures on unpaid carers.

At the University of Birmingham, we are working with the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) to research the likely impact of the proposed National Care Service. In particular, we are focusing on:

What are the likely benefits and challenges presented by the introduction of the National Care Service in Scotland, with a particular focus on its impact on local government?

Through policy analysis and interviews, we are exploring what LGIU’s Scottish membership and wider stakeholders perceive to be the benefits and challenges presented by these reforms. There are major challenges for local government in the reforms, as COSLA has laid out. We also recognise that there may be some advantages to the new proposals and will consider these alongside challenges. Our findings will also be relevant for ongoing discussions about the development of a National Care Service in Wales, and the Labour Party’s proposals for a National Care Service in England. The research is currently underway and will be reporting in the summer.

Find out more about LGIU’s Local Democracy Research Centre here: 

Local Democracy Research Centre


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