A NATIONAL Care Service (NCS) for Scotland sounds very grand and potentially life changing for those with unmet care needs.

You might think it sounds like a new NHS-type structure from the impressive title. I’m afraid nothing could be further from the truth.

At present, local authorities have responsibility for social care while health boards are responsible for health care. Social care services are provided for people of any age who need help with day-to-day living because of illness, physical disability, learning disabilities or mental health conditions, older age, frailty or dementia.

Social care also supports people with or recovering from alcohol or drug addictions, and those who are or have been homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless. It includes children’s and young people’s services.

I’ve been reading the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on its proposed NCS and can’t help thinking we’re about to waste vast sums of public money by creating a new quango that can’t fix any of the problems in our social care system.

For me, the real problem is a lack of local government funding; changing who controls the service is a sticky plaster on a gaping wound.

The NCS won’t be a new NHS for social care. As far as I can discern it’s a new layer of bureaucracy that would be under the direct control of Scottish ministers. The NCS would sit on top of existing Integration Joint Boards (IJBs), who in turn sit upon local government. Somewhere far down the line of this layer cake is a worker who provides vital services to a person in need of social care.

The IJB is a legal partnership between a council and local health board. It’s a bizarre Byzantine creature that requires health and social care services to be legally delegated to it, so it can then delegate them all back to the council or NHS to deliver them. IJBs came into existence from the 2014 Public Bodies (Joint Working) Act in order to better organise strategic services.

I recall raising judicial review proceedings against an IJB a few years ago and only then realised it had virtually no staff on its payroll; its officers were “seconded” on paper. It’s essentially a legal souffle that exists to set budgets and write strategic plans.

IJBs are as transparent as porridge. And according to the Scottish Government’s consultation paper, IJBs haven’t really worked due to “a lack of collaborative leadership in some areas”.

Alarm bells rang for me when the Scottish Government revealed the NCS will be delivered by IJBs who will be renamed “Community Health and Social Care Boards”. With respect, changing the names of things you say don’t work doesn’t inspire much confidence. And as I’ve said, IJBs don’t deliver anything anyway.

Leaving aside the problems of social care delivery from Covid-19 – the fact it’s been reduced or non-existent for many people – the pre-Covid problems all centred around money. What would happen is a person would be advised they needed a new community care assessment of social care needs. Invariably, that would result in a reduced budget with reduced services.

My colleagues at Govan Law Centre have many cases where people were reassessed before Covid-19 last year and told they now didn’t need a care worker or home help as much – even although their medical condition had often deteriorated.

Severely disabled octogenarian clients were told they didn’t need overnight care after relying on these workers for 20 years. It was egregious.

I have no doubt councils were trying to cope with their ever-diminishing budgets from the Scottish Government, however, the law gives people rights that can’t be airbrushed away. Let’s not forget many people who receive social care services have to pay a contribution to them, as fees are levied which effectively reduces disability benefits. The First Minister’s manifesto commitment this year pledged such fees would be abolished as part of the NCS. Without extra funding it’s hard to see how this can be achieved without a reduction in the quality of social care.

While the NCS seeks to improve the quality of social care across Scotland it’s fair to say there’s nothing to stop Scottish ministers using existing powers to make that happen right now. If leadership is lacking, they can set up a delivery or strategy group.

Is the real purpose of the NCS a power grab from local government? The Scottish Government’s consultation says: “We will make Scottish ministers accountable for social care as they are for health care within Scotland.”

Cosla, the representative body of councils, believes social care has been subject to “chronic underfunding” and an NCS will “put at risk the vital links that exist across essential services” delivered by local government. One thing is obvious. Another quango won’t fix our social care crisis.