SCOTLAND’S Social Care minister has been accused of putting his “fingers in his ears” to avoid listening to criticism over plans for the National Care Service. 

Kevin Stewart was urged to “throw in the towel” instead of pushing ahead with the planned reforms.

However, the SNP politician said the reforms were necessary to provide “consistency and quality of care and support across Scotland.”

The SNP minister was being questioned in parliament following the revelation in the Herald on Sunday that the UK's second biggest union were set to boycott any further involvement in the co-design of the new service. 

READ MORE: Sturgeon's new care service in disarray over union boycott

Unite, which has thousands of members working in the sector, said that despite more than nine months of discussions and negotiations, there had been no progress towards meeting any of their basic requirements.

The union said the only firm proposal from the government was to transfer “at least 75,000 employees from the local government sector into unspecified, unaccountable ministerial quangos.”

In Holyrood, Mr Stewart said he would be happy to give Unite “a cast iron guarantee that public service social care staff would continue to work with the publicly owned sector.” 

He added: “There are no circumstances where we would want to see a transfer of public sector staff to independent providers.” 

READ MORE: Council leaders call for SNP to scrap 'distraction' care service plans

Labour’s Paul O’Kane said the minister's answer “would be funny if this weren't such a serious issue.”

He added: “Unite’s intervention joins a growing chorus of voices raising significant concerns about the lack of clarity around what the bill will achieve in practice. And all of this begs the question, why was the bill not co-designed from the beginning, before we had legislation in front of us?”

Mr O’Kane said the union’s intervention was a significant development: “We've heard the minister on countless occasions talk about the importance of a co-design process in shaping the National Care Service. So can he explain why so many stakeholders, particularly those representing frontline care workers, have lost confidence?

Mr Stewart said: “I think that in all of this that we have to listen to the people of Scotland, particularly those voices of lived experience, who want to see change in our social care system.

“Scotland's community health and social care system has seen significant incremental change over the last 20 years. But despite this, people with experience of care and support, and providing it have been clear that there remain some significant issues. 

“Change of the scale set out in the bill is necessary to deliver the consistency and quality of care and support across Scotland, the care and support that people deserve and the ending of postcode lotteries.” 

READ MORE: Alex Neil calls for National Care Service to be scrapped

He said the Bill was a framework, and that it was important for parliament to scrutinise this “to empower people to contribute via the co-design process.”

Mr O’Kane said the minister “has got his fingers in his ears."

He added: “How many key stakeholders will it take to withdraw from the co-design process before he starts treating the issue with the seriousness it demands?”

Mr Stewart insisted that the “government will continue to listen to people.” 

“But the top priority here are those voices with lived experience who feel that there have been huge implementation gaps over the years in our social care system. 

“And that is why we agreed to co-design with the voices of lived experience and other stakeholders.”

Tory MSP Craig Hoy said the plans were “unnecessary, unworkable and could fatally undermine local care provision.” 

“So now that the Unite Union has warned that these plans will push staff in control of social care into and I quote, ‘unspecified, unaccountable ministerial quangos,’ will the minister finally throw in the towel and instead put all his energies and to fix the crisis that the SNP has created in Scotland’s social care system?”

The Minister said the government was not waiting for the National Care Service to “improve social care here in Scotland.” 

“And we are very pressured at this moment both in our health service and in our social care system. And what we see is a need for change. What is going on at this moment quite clearly shows that change is required.”

The Tory shouted “piffle” at the minister as he answered. 

“I think if he spoke to people from across the country who are in receipt of care and support, they think change is required,” Mr Stewart said in response.

“And that is why the government has bought brought forward these proposals. We will continue to listen to people. But we must listen, first of all, first and foremost to those that are in receipt of support of that care and support.”

Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie said: “I'm not sure undermining trade unionism is the best way to go about trying to listen to the trade unions. He said he's listening, but the Unite union have stopped listening to him and the Bill’s got few friends. 

“It was condemned by the Finance Committee, criticised by the Education Committee and the government still can't make its mind up if children's services should be in or out. 

“Children are an afterthought once again. The Bill is doomed. Why can't the minister see the writing on the wall?”

That was rejected by Mr Stewart. “I should declare an interest as a trade unionist, I'm a member of Unison, and I am someone that will never ignore the trade unions because I've been a trade unionist for all of my adult life. 

“And we will listen to people as we move forward. 

“But change is required here. And the change that is required, is brought to the fore by the voices of lived experience, who are often forgotten about in the debates that we are having in this Parliament around about the National Care Service.”