A PLEDGE that care home workers would be paid the living wage may not be affordable and could plunge the sector into crisis, according to industry and council sources.

The deal, imposed as part of Finance Secretary John Swinney's funding settlement for councils, requires any care services to be commissioned on the basis that workers are paid at least the new rate.

However, care providers fear they will not be paid enough for care home places to meet pay requirements, while council sources say it is unfair to make them responsible for the introduction of the living wage, when the employers have the final say. Councils face sanctions if the £8.25 rate is not introduced in October.

Annual talks between councils and providers, to set the price paid for care home places for elderly patients, begin on Tuesday amid concern that some properties may close, withdraw from working with councils or may say the living wage for workers remains unaffordable.

Care providers in the public and voluntary sector were not consulted before ministers announced that they would be expected to meet 25 per cent of the cost of introducing the higher rate of pay for their staff, and some say they cannot afford to do so.

Ranald Mair, chief executive of Scottish Care, said the sector faced two pay challenges this year, with the UK minimum wage, which George Osborne calls the living wage, coming in April at £7.20 an hour along with the Scottish living wage.

If the price on offer for care home places did not reflect the cost of running them, it could have an "eroding effect" on provision, he said, with homes considering closure or councils unable to purchase so many places.

"We would be arguing for local authorities to be adequately funded as well to do this," he said. "We know there is a squeeze on council expenditure."

Mr Mair said the living wage promise had been part of the negotiation between Mr Swinney and councils only, despite the fact that care providers will be expected to implement it.

A charity insider expressed similar concerns, adding: "The ‘deal’ to deliver the living wage was agreed between two partners, neither of whom will actually have to implement it – that will be the job of employers in our sector and in the private sector, so it is highly regrettable that we were not brought into the discussions."

Cosla, which represents most councils, said it expected to offer care providers an acceptable increase.

A Cosla spokesman said: “The discussions around the care home contract for next year start on Tuesday. It is therefore very disappointing that Scottish Care have pre-empted a negative outcome for these discussions before a word is even uttered.

“From the local government perspective, we are going into next week’s talks with both an intention and a genuine willingness of making them work for all parties."

The Scottish Government said the introduction of the living wage was being achieved through a partnership approach with private and voluntary sector providers.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "We have budgeted £250 million in 2016/17 to be invested in social care.

"This new investment in social care will allow councils to commission adult social care from the independent and voluntary sectors on the basis that care workers are paid the living wage of £8.25 an hour - giving up to 40,000 people, mainly women, doing some of the most valuable work in Scotland a pay rise.

“Negotiations on a national care home contract are underway between local authorities and providers. We are playing our part by providing substantial investment to the sector and we stand ready to further support these negotiations if invited.”