HOLYROOD’S Presiding Officer has warned Nicola Sturgeon’s Government could be about to “interfere” in the running of the Scottish Parliament.

Alison Johnstone said part of the flagship legislation to overhaul Scotland’s care system “could be considered inappropriate” and beyond ministers’ powers.

It is the latest controversy to affect the Governent’s National Care Service (Scotland) Bill, which some opposition parties want halted because of a lack of crucial detail.

Two SNP MSPs have also attacked it, alongside council chiefs and lawyers.

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The First Minister has described the National Care Service (NCS) as “arguably the most significant public service reform since the creation of the NHS” in 1948.

It is intended to “oversee local delivery of community health and social care, ensuring consistent and high standards and embedding the principles of fair work for care workers”. 

In a submission to Holyrood’s health committee, which is scrutinising the Bill’s fine print, Ms Johnson takes issue with Section 15 of the Bill.

This deals with establishing a complaints system, and would give ministers the power to use regulations to impose requirements on care providers and create sanctions for failing to comply.

Critically, these regulations could impose new duties - and hence new costs - on the independent ombudsmen and commissioners directly funded by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), the cross-party group that manages Holyrood and its budget.

Although the regulations would require the SPCB’s approval, they would put Holyrood’s managers in an invidious position, and refusal could be hard in practice.

Writing on behalf of the SPCB, which she chairs, Ms Johnstone said: “This is the first time that Ministers are proposing to use regulation-making powers which directly impact the statutory functions of the SPCB - in this instance, the funding of [public] officeholders.

"This could be considered inappropriate, and we would wish to draw this matter to the attention of the Committee."

She stressed the Scotland Act 1998, which established devolution, conferred "no direct functions on the Scottish Ministers over the Parliament, its Procedures, its officers or the SPCB and its officers...

"The Parliament approves the allocation of annual budgets to the Scottish Ministers, the SPCB and other public bodies.

“The Scottish Government has no locus to affect the SPCB’s allocation or its expenditure. 

“To interfere in the SPCB’s budget, which is subject to parliamentary scrutiny, could be considered inappropriate.”

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Ms Johnstone said that if ministers wanted to change any of the SPCB’s functions, they should use primary legislation, not regulations, in order to ensure proper scrutiny.

“Otherwise such a proposal could potentially be ultra vires [for] Scottish Ministers. 

“The proposed conferral in the Bill of a delegated regulation-making power could fall into that category.”

She also said ministers could use existing powers under the Public Service Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 to change the duties of watchdogs, which would involve a consultation, an explanatory document, and approval by the  whole parliament.

She said: “The powers being proposed in the Bill are not subject to the same parliamentary scrutiny mechanisms.

"As there are already mechanisms in place…. we do not consider what is being proposed by way of conferring Ministerial regulation-making powers to be the appropriate approach to this matter.”

READ MORE: IFS thinktank warns SNP social care shake-up could 'exacerbate differences' in quality

The dispute is revealed in the forthcoming issue of the Scottish Left Review, in an article by Unison Scotland policy officer Stephen Low.

Tory MSP Craig Hoy said: “This unprecedented intervention from the Presiding Officer underlines just what a power-grab the NCS represents for SNP ministers.

“Their desire to centralise is so great it even extends to claiming powers currently held by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

“The SNP need to heed the almost universal opposition and drop these reckless plans. Rather than squandering an estimated £1.3 billion on an unwieldy bureaucracy, they should be ensuring all the money goes into frontline care provided locally.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As part of the development of the National Care Service we will put in place a robust complaints and redress process, which will be designed in collaboration with those who use and provide care services.

“While section 15 of the NCS Bill, as currently drafted, gives Parliament the power to scrutinise and approve any regulations made about complaints before they can come into force, we welcome the willingness of SPCB officials to work with the Bill team to address the points raised by the Presiding Officer. 

“Scottish Government officials will continue to be in contact with the SPCB as required as the co-design process progresses.”