Scottish Government plans to centralise social care have been dealt another blow after research commissioned by SNP ministers concluded a feeling of “unease” over workforce impacts and called for funding to be better spent on improving existing services.

Plans to take authority for adult social care away from local authorities and replace it with a centralised National Care Service were tabled at Holyrood in June 2022.

But the legislation has been paused, with SNP Social Care Minister Maree Todd saying the delay was to “undertake widespread engagement with people with lived experience, workforce representatives, unions, local government and providers”.

The legislation, due to come into force by 2026, also proposes moving responsibility for children’s services, justice social work and mental health services, as well as adult social care, into a National Care Service, all of which will be overseen by Scottish ministers.

The proposals have been heavily criticised by opponents and the umbrella organisation for Scottish councils, Cosla, which has warned against local authorities losing their say and influence over how services are run.

Ministers asked the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection (CELCIS) at Strathclyde University to investigate the impact the overhaul could have on the children’s services workforce in Scotland.

CELCIS is a leading, internationally-recognised research, improvement and innovation centre which specialises in the wellbeing and experiences of children and young people in need of care and protection, their families and carers.

But the latest piece of research published by CELCIS has warned that “the workforce is concerned about the extent of change being proposed by a National Care Service strategically, operationally, and culturally, and in a challenging financial climate, which is already changing at a fast pace to fulfil existing commitment to approaches, legislation and policies".

It adds that “the main sentiment expressed about any potential restructure of Scotland’s children’s services was one of unease”.

The stark research would that centralising care services “would lead to significant upheaval at a time when the sector is under substantial pressure”.

It added that “whatever the design of the restructure” taken forward by ministers, “no structure can encompass all services that children, young people and families need”.

It said: “There will consequently always be some boundaries where different services will need to work together to support children, young people and families, and it these boundaries where gaps and weaknesses in service provision can be most acute.

“There is an ‘opportunity cost’ argument that the significant level of financial and human resources necessary to deliver a restructure would be better allocated to improving services, building inter-practitioner relationships, and investing in the workforce.

“There was concern around whether Scotland’s children’s services leadership at the national and local level has the necessary skills, knowledge and capacity to deliver a significant restructure.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader and social care spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, said: “The SNP must listen to these stark warnings from workers on the front line of children’s services.

“Scottish Labour has long called for a National Care Service to boost standards and better support care services – but so far all the SNP has delivered is a failed power grab.”

She added: “Years of SNP failure has left children’s care services under immense pressure and it is essential that these changes don’t make things even worse.

“If the SNP is going to get back on track and deliver a National Care Service worthy of the name, it must have workers’ voices at the heart of it.”

Scottish Conservative MSP, Roz McCall, said: “Even the SNP’s own commissioned research has highlighted the serious flaws in their plans for a centralised care service.

“Their reckless and bureaucratic plans are the last thing our vulnerable children – and those on the frontline supporting them – need at this time.”

She added: “The SNP should heed the serious concerns raised in this research and scrap their plans for a National Care Service.

“Instead, they should divert the money earmarked towards cash-strapped local services supporting children right now.”

Scottish LibDems leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said: "SNP ministers have talked a lot of tosh about their plans for care services.

"As a former youth worker myself I can well understand why those working in children's services would be sceptical about a dramatic upheaval and a top-down reorganisation of how services are run.”

He added: "The key problems workers face like tight budgets and a shortage of staff will not be solved by more power concentrated in the hands of distant ministers.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see more money spent on frontline services, not on bureaucratic wrangling."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to a National Care Service that ensures consistent, high-quality social care support and community healthcare that meets peoples’ needs across the country.

"This research will help us consider the future of children’s services as we move forward and we are ensuring the needs and views of young people and children are considered as part of the full range of design and development.

“The research suggests that having both national and local elements working together for children is important and we will consider whether including certain services would improve consistency in care.

"We strongly value all those supporting children and families and are committed to making sure that the structures of care are right and we are constantly working to improve outcomes for children and young people all across the country.”