It is important that the service that is provided to older people is of high quality and appropriate to their needs. Ministers have increased our community care support for local authorities to £1.6 billion in the current year to help achieve that. It is for individual local authorities to determine their community care needs and to secure appropriate services, such as care homes and day centres.
Does the First Minister recognise the special circumstances and extra costs of caring for dependent older people in scattered communities such as Lochinver, Tain, Fort William and many of our islands? Does he understand that the extra cost of meeting the care commission's standards and inspections is shrinking the availability of respite care places in particular and that that is directly and adversely affected by an inadequate local government settlement, about which Highland Council and many other local authorities are openly expressing concern?
Will the First Minister uphold the cornerstone of social justice that is the principle that older people should be cared for in their own communities and in an appropriate facility that is properly financed rather than being shipped off to larger settlements far from family support?
I am not saying that this is the case across the board, but I think that there is an element of what Rob Gibson is saying that might slightly misrepresent what is happening in the Highland area. As I understand it, many of the changes that are taking place in care homes are designed to ensure that people can stay in houses in their local communities rather than transferring to other care homes. If that is indeed the case, it is something that we should support. Most elderly people in Scotland want to stay in their own home if they can, and they want adequate support in their own home to allow them to do that. I would want to encourage and continue that trend, in Highland and elsewhere. However, there is a need for a wide range of services for elderly people, some of whom will require the support of a care home environment while others will require support in their own homes. Of course, many will require no support at all. However, the funding settlement that we have outlined, which has increased dramatically over the years, is designed to achieve that range of options for elderly people.
I counsel all members of the Parliament against deciding to vote later this afternoon for a council tax freeze, which would reduce the amount of money that is available to councils for care homes and, therefore, reduce the support for elderly people.
Does the First Minister share my concern about Highland Council's proposal to sell a number of care homes to the private sector? That will not guarantee the appropriate provision and long-term existence of care for the elderly. With the potential reduction in the provision of care for the elderly through those closures, what initiatives will the Executive introduce to address that social problem?
My understanding is that Highland Council is considering a range of options. It would be inappropriate for me to intervene in that consultation and debate at this stage. However, I believe that the first preference of elderly people who require care would be that they should receive that care in their own home. That should be in the front of the minds of those who are having the discussions that need to take place in Scotland.
Clearly, however, if people cannot be looked after in their own homes, adequate care home provision is needed. Making such provision is difficult when we have an increased aging population, but we have allocated significant funds to doing that. Ultimately, such decisions have to be made by individual local authorities, but I hope that, when they make those decisions, they will have the needs and the welfare of elderly people at the front of their minds.