COUNCIL leaders have renewed their call for the SNP Government’s flagship National Care Service to be put on pause – labelling the proposals a “distraction”.

SNP-led Cosla, the umbrella group for Scottish councils, has insisted that the focus from SNP ministers should be on properly resourcing social care services rather than structural reform of how the system was run.

SNP ministers have stressed the proposed National Care Service will be the most significant overhaul of public services since the foundation of the NHS in the wake of the Second World War.

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However organisations in the sector, including trade unions, have raised concerns about the plans.

Auditors have also said the final price tag for the National Care Service remains unclear, but the Scottish Government has denied there is a need to pause its implementation.

SNP social care minister Kevin Stewart has said that consultations have found support for the NCS among people who use social care.

MSPs are expected to debate the general principles of a Bill to set up the National Care Service in March.

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Cosla social care spokesman Paul Kelly renewed the local government body’s opposition to the plans on Wednesday.

He said: “It is inconceivable that the Scottish Government has put forward a budget that would see real-terms cuts to front-line care services, whilst proceeding with centralising structural reforms.

“Our communities, our dedicated front-line workforce and our vital public services deserve to be valued. Rhetoric must meet reality now; we cannot wait until 2026.

“Improvements to care could progress faster and with more impact if services were properly resourced and did not face the distraction of structural reform.

“Instead, we are presented with reorganisation and real-terms cuts, which will have a significant impact on the delivery of care.

“Ministers must invest in change now and pause their plans for structural re-organisation.”

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Mr Stewart said the Scottish Government still intended to launch the National Care Service in the current session of the Scottish Parliament, which ends in 2026.

He told MSPs he wanted to create a service which is “sustainable and future-proofed”.

By 2026, annual costs for provisions of the Bill are estimated to be between £240 million and £527 million.

However, auditors have warned this could understate the real costs as outdated assumptions about inflation were used.

Mr Stewart has stressed the National Care Service will aim to “end the postcode lottery in care provision”, adding that the Scottish Government “will work with partners and those who have experience of the social care and community health service to design the new organisation”.

He said: “People will be able to move more easily between different types of care and support as their needs change.”