NICOLA Sturgeon's plans for a National Care Service in Scotland are in disarray after the UK's second biggest union who take care of 10,000 social care staff moved to boycott any further involvement in its evolution saying it is "not fit for purpose".

The Herald on Sunday can reveal that the union, whose member will be expected to make the new service a success, has taken the action after nine months of engagement to fight for what it calls a "local publicly accountable and publicly owned" National Care Service (NCS).

Unions fear that the transfer of power of social care from councils to the Scottish Government will be a "fatal blow" to local government in Scotland, which provides public services, including education, waste management, libraries and planning.

It comes as the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS)has called on MSPs to delay activity in the care bill to the autumn of 2023 at the earliest because of the "considerable work" required to turn the bill "into the legislation we had all hoped for".

And the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), the umbrella body for the country’s 32 councils has called on Nicola Sturgeon’s government to suspend its plans for a new national care service, in a growing battle over funding.

The seeds of the National Care Service were sown during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the virus took a terrible toll on many care homes.

The First Minister first outlined plans for the establishment of a National Care Service in 2021, saying the new service would "arguably be the most significant public service reform since the creation of the National Health Service".

She said the new body could provide a "lasting and positive legacy", in the same way as the "tragedy" of World War Two led to the creation of the National Health Service.

At that point there were more than 13,000 deaths in Scotland where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate and around a third occurred in care homes.

The First Minister said it was intended that the NCS which would merge social care, elderly care, family support and community healthcare into a single service would be operational by the end of the current Parliament term in 2026.

The idea is to recreate a free-at-the-point-of-need system like the NHS, but for care.

It means that local authorities would no longer run social care services, with power transferred to a series of regional care boards, which Scottish ministers would control.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf introduced the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill into Holyrood in June with the purpose to improve the quality and consistency of social services in Scotland, better integrate these services into health care.

He said this would end a "postcode lottery" and create uniform standards for care across the country.

But unions are among those who have raised concerns about the future of care jobs due to the "centralisation" of the service.

Council chiefs and trade unions have joined forces to to call on the Scottish Government to reverse centralisation plans which they say would remove up to 75,000 staff from local authorities.

The Herald: Nicola Sturgeon

The local government employers organisation Cosla says the plans have left council staff, not only in social work and social care, "uncertain over their future employer, their terms and conditions and their pay".

They say the uncertainties "risk years of disruption rather than contributing to service improvements".

MSPs at Holyrood are now scrutinising the National Care Service Bill, which sets up the framework on which the new service will be built.

Unite have now decided to withdraw for any further involvement in the co-design of the care service in the form outline in the bill.

It has been suggested other unions may be considering following suit.

Unite's Scottish executive committee says that despite more than nine months of discussions and negotiations with the Scottish Government, no progress has been made towards meeting any of their basic requirements including that it remains in local hands.

The motion approved by the committee states: "Contrary to the Scottish Government’s initial commitments to create an NHS style National Care Service, the only firm proposal put to us has been the transfer of at least 75,000 employees from the Local Government Sector into unspecified, unaccountable ministerial quangos. This leaves Unite’s Scottish Executive with no alternative but to withdraw from any forthcoming involvement in the co-design of this alleged National Care Service.

"Unless and until Unite has a cast iron guarantee that all public service employees who work in social care, will continue to deliver social care within a democratic publicly owned care sector - and Unite receives a firm commitment for meaningful discussions on our other substantive points - Unite will no longer engage in the current redesign process and has decided to withdraw from it until our basic requirements are met."

It means that Unite will not attend meetings that are specially called to involve unions in the co-design of the NCS in the form outlined in the current bill. Unite has now instructed officers and elected lay representatives not to attend these design meetings with immediate effect.

It is now seeking to arrange meetings and events with MSPs to make the case that the current NCS bill should withdrawn.

The union says it will campaign to bring forward alternative proposals for a genuinely public owned and publicly provided NCS - which does not involve commissioning to the private sector or the transfer of care workers from local government.

Post-pandemic, the government commissioned an independent review of adult social care, led by Derek Feeley, a former chief executive of NHS Scotland.

His report considered options which stretched as far as nationalising the private care sector - something ultimately deemed too expensive and time-consuming - before coming down in favour of a new national management body.

The Herald: The state of social care has been branded "a tragedy" by an economist whose reforms have been delayed by the Government (Joe Giddens/PA)

MSPs at Holyrood are now scrutinising the National Care Service Bill, which sets up the framework on which the new service will be built.

The proposals have also been widely criticised for being poorly thought through, very costly and much more unwieldy than ministers admit.

A cross-party committee at Holyrood expressed “significant concern” in early December about its setup and running costs, and whether it would be genuinely cost-effective. Ministers estimated it could cost between £664m and £1.26bn to establish over the next five years.

It is estimated that the true cost of a national care service would exceed £1.5bn.

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish secretary, said: "Unite’s Scottish Executive unanimously passed a motion instructing any representative of the union to withdraw from any forthcoming involvement and engagement in the design of the National Care Service (NCS).

"It is clear to us that the NCS Bill is not fit for purpose and we want it withdrawn. This means the Scottish Government going back to the drawing board and listening to the concerns and expertise of the workforce across the public, private and voluntary sectors before up to £1.2bn of public money is spent. "The only firm proposal on the table has been the transfer of at least 75,000 employees from local government into centralised ministerial quangos.

"In its current form the NCS Bill could exacerbate the existing problems within the social care system with respect to provision, accountability and working conditions. If the Bill’s progress is dependent on the participation of trade unions in the design process then we believe Unite’s position is a very significant development.”

The Herald:

The public service union UNISON, which also represents thousands of care worker expected to make NCS a success has told ministers that the bill represents a "fatal blow" to local government in Scotland, is "unfit for purpose" and "would be better withdrawn".

It has said in its overview to ministers:"Dismantling social work, and degrading local government, is not a valid or effective response to the care crisis. Nor is it a route to high quality social care.

"The bill greatly undermines local government and local democratic accountability for high quality care services.

"The existence of councils as a tier of government is at stake if this attempt to remove local democratic control over social services succeeds."

GMB Scotland, the union that represents thousands of social care workers across Scotland, including social carers and ancillary workers also registered its concerns to ministers over the transfer of power from local authorities.

"The role of councils in the provision of care should not be undermined so that those local services remain by communities holding their councillors to account for the services in their area," the union said in its analysis.

The CCPS in calling on ministers for delays over the bill pointed out that it and individual members were facing "unprecedented" issues, spending "considerable effort and resource in addressing the winter pressures faced".

"Much attention is afforded to the crisis in the NHS. The quiet crisis being faced in equal measure in the social care and support sector is less well covered in the public discourse."

They said that in the light of that and the "considerable" amount of work needed on the bill, there should be a delay.

CCPS said that there was concern that in the current climate the "bandwidth" to truly engage in legislative improvement is "minimal".

It added: "Getting the NCS bill wrong, would be a catastrophic outcome for an already under-resourced sector and the people we serve."

Social care minister Kevin Stewart said: "A new National Care Service could not exist without the dedication and commitment of those who deliver care and support services, and a key objective for the new body will be supporting and valuing our unique workforce.

“Local delivery will be vitally important. While ministers will have powers on staff transfer, there are no plans for the wholesale transfer of staff. We recognise the crucial importance in allowing Care Boards to make staffing decisions based on their own needs and circumstances, and the need of the communities in which they operate.

“If there are transfers, we will consult with trade unions to try to reach a position avoiding any detriment to staff, including in relation to pensions.

“The establishment of a National Care Service will be the most ambitious reform of public services since devolution. Change of this scale is necessary to deliver the consistency and quality of care and support across Scotland that people deserve and help make it a fairer and more equal place to live.”