Tories turn heat on Nicola Sturgeon to drop £1.3bn social care overhaul
Nicola Sturgeon must scrap her “discredited” plans for a National Care Service and give the £1.3 billion saved to councils, the Tories said ahead of a key vote on the Scottish Budget on Thursday.
Liz Smith, the shadow finance secretary, argued that the “discredited and unaffordable plans” for a centralised care service should be scrapped and the savings ploughed into improving local authority social care provision.
She also urged John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, to match the business rates relief being handed to firms south of the border after the Treasury handed him the required funds through the Barnett formula.
Mr Swinney complained of “one of the most challenging financial environments since devolution” and argued his decision to increase the top two rates of income tax by a penny meant extra funding for the NHS.
However, Ms Smith said that the reality was many of his “excuses for the huge spending cuts he’s imposing don’t stack up, and that Scots are paying the price for SNP incompetence”, such as the spiralling costs of the ferries scandal.
Although Scots pay roughly £1 billion more income tax each year than if they lived in England, thanks to the SNP’s higher rates, she said this generates only an extra £325 million because of Scotland’s lower economic growth rates.
Her intervention came ahead of a vote by MSPs on whether Mr Swinney’s Budget for the coming financial year should clear its first parliamentary hurdle.
The SNP and Greens, the two coalition parties in Ms Sturgeon’s government, together enjoy a majority at Holyrood that should ensure its passage.
The National Care Service would transfer responsibility for adult and children’s social care, including care homes, to a series of new boards overseen by ministers.
They would be given the power to “commission local services” from councils, which would no longer directly provide social care, third-sector providers and private care homes.
However, a financial memorandum published alongside the legislation warned that up to £1.3 billion is expected to be spent on red tape for the service and its care boards in their first five years.
Kenneth Gibson, the SNP convener of Holyrood’s finance committee, has warned that the service risked being a hugely expensive “sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
Michelle Thomson, another SNP committee member, said that ministers were signing a “blank cheque for the public purse”.
Closing the yawning ‘tax gap’
Ms Smith said: “The difficult financial climate has been made much more challenging because of years of poor choices made by the SNP Government.
“It’s time for John Swinney to ditch the SNP’s discredited and unaffordable plans for a National Care Service, and instead give that money to councils who are better placed to deploy it on local social care provision.”
She pointed out that Mr Swinney had received a record block grant from Westminster that cancels out the impact of high inflation, and urged him to close the yawning “tax gap” between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The higher rate in Scotland will rise from 41p to 42p in April, while the top rate will increase from 46p to 47p. Both rates will be 2p lower in England at 40p and 45p respectively.
Anyone in Scotland earning more than £27,850 pays more income tax than if they lived south of the border, and from April those with a £50,000 salary will pay £1,552 more over the 2023-24 financial year.
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesman, said: “Ditching divisive and expensive plans for centralising care services, national testing of P1 pupils and further papers on breaking up the UK would free up hundreds of millions of pounds to invest in front-line services.”
Urging other parties to support his Budget in the stage one vote, Mr Swinney said: “These are fair and ambitious spending plans for the coming year which have been developed during one of the most challenging financial environments since devolution.”