KEY partnerships in homelessness and social care could be lost in the current proposals to establish a National Care Service, a Holyrood committee has heard.

Scottish Government plans to merge social care services into a national body have been under intense scrutiny from opposition MSPs, local government officials and charities.

Ministers have previously been warned about the impact the proposed changes could have on the future of local authorities in Scotland as a large proportion of their staff and functions would be transferred over to the centralised structure.

Fresh warnings have now emerged that vital links between sectors to tackle issues like social care, education and homelessness would be lost.

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Ashley Campbell, policy and practice manager at the Chartered Institute of Housing, gave evidence to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee yesterday.

She said that while the National Care Service could provide the opportunity to strengthen the links between the services, there are concerns about what will happen if these partnerships break down.

Campbell said: “Because housing and homelessness departments have spent the last six or more years working on those relationships, there’s a concern that if we scrap integration joint boards (IJB) and start again from scratch, that progress could be lost.

“Where does that leave people that really need those services and rely on those services that are so essential, to supporting people with complex needs who might be homeless to supporting people to live independently in their own homes if they’re ageing or have a disability or maybe are developing dementia?”

An IJB oversees the work of local health and social care partnerships but would ultimately be replaced by the plans for a centralised care service.

Earlier, the committee heard from local authority bosses who highlighted “significant concerns” over the transfer of delegated functions.

Dawn Roberts, chief executive of Dumfries and Galloway Council, said: “It does bring significant concern about what it will mean for the local authority when some of our delegated functions would be transferring, but also functions that sit firmly within the council, and the support services and what it means to disentangle from some of the services where we worked really well together.

“The real risk in all of this is that we see a reduction in performance and outcome because of disruption.

“But also remember that these are the most vulnerable within our society and these are the most vulnerable who we need to put right at the centre of any change and the change is taken forward for the right reasons.”

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Social Care Minister Kevin Stewart (above) said there was no cause for pausing the bill until there is more detail on the finances of the new service.

He previously acknowledged some stakeholders feel “discontent” but said there is overwhelming support for the changes from people who rely on social care.

Stewart told the committee that the process of “co-designing” the legislation meant certain financial assumptions could not be made right now.

He said: “If we were to make assumptions on some of these issues at this moment in time, we would probably rightly be accused of having already made our minds up around about certain aspects of what we want to do as we move forward.”