Scottish taxpayers have been charged £17million for work on flagship SNP care reforms which have been delayed three years because of flawed financial planning.

The controversial National Care Service (NCS) was last month punted into the next parliament because of a raft of problems and U-turns, meaning it may never happen.

But in a parliamentary answer, SNP social care minister Maree Todd revealed around 160 civil servants were still working on it at an average monthly cost of £814,000.

She said the cost of preparatory work on the NCS was estimated at £9.77million in 2023/24 and the cumulative spend on civil servants since 2021/22 was £17.4m. 

The Tories said the costs were “astonishing” and urged ministers to ditch the NCS plan.

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When Nicola Sturgeon launched the project in 2021, the then First Minister said it was “arguably the most significant public service reform” since the creation of the NHS in 1948.

The aim was to end the “postcode lottery” in community health and social care, by ensuring consistent and high standards and “embedding the principles of fair work for care workers”. 

The “go live” date was due to be 2025/26, within the current parliament.

However in December that was pushed back to 2028/29, well into the parliament that runs from 2026 to 2031, when the SNP might not be in power, and the NCS could be abandoned.

Scottish Tory chair Craig Hoy MSP said the spending to date had been “eye-watering”.

He said: “This is typical of how the SNP recklessly squander taxpayers’ money.

“It is astonishing that 160 civil servants are still working directly on these plans - at a cost of over £800,000 per month - when they have been roundly opposed by stakeholders.

“Maree Todd needs to accept reality and ditch her party’s illogical plans for centralised social care in Scotland, rather than throwing good money after bad.

“The scarcely believable £10m costs for civil servants earmarked for this year should be urgently diverted towards local care services which are buckling on the SNP’s watch.

“Patients suffering delayed discharge or insufficient care – along with dedicated frontline staff – need those vital resources, but they are seeing them being frittered away by an arrogant SNP Government who typically think they know best.”

The original plan involved transferring council-run care services and assets to the NCS, with existing joint NHS and council integration authorities replaced by local care boards.

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As care and social work makes up around a third of council budgets, local authorities and unions pushed back hard against the prospect of large-scale transfers and job uncertainty.

The plan was also criticised by MSPs for relying on a so-called "framework Bill" to create the service, with much of the critical detail filled in later by secondary legislation.

The Scottish Government said regulations would be created using a process of “co-design”  by various interested parties, including patients, trade unions and the social care sector.

Ministers now say councils will retain responsibility for “all their current functions and the delivery of social work and social care services”, meaning no transfer of staff or assets.

The creation of new care boards has also been axed in favour of reforming integration authorities, with a National Care Service Board monitoring the sector and giving advice.

Forecast to cost between £644m and £1.26bn, the price tag for the NCS in its original form has risen to between £880m and £2.2bn.  

MSPs will therefore be asked to amend the Bill behind it to incorporate the proposed changes, cutting the cost over the first 10 years to between £631m and £916m.

All told, it amounts to a major retreat from the original proposals.

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.