Independent care home owners in Scotland have enlisted heavyweight help to convince local authorities that they are not being paid enough.

Sending a clear signal that it plans to get tough, Scottish Care, which represents some 800 of Scotland's 11,000 independent care homes, has employed the services of PR firm Media House.

Previous clients of the firm have included the campaign to save clause 28 (section 2a in Scotland) bankrolled with£1m from Stagecoach tycoon Brian Souter, which some believed represented the greatest challenge to the Scottish Executive in its first year.

Over the last week, Scottish Care has attracted significant media attention. It claims that more homes will close, elderly people may be forced out on to the street, some homes might have to refuse new local authority clients and that the issue will continue to exacerbate the problem of 'bedblocking'.

Initially the group was persuaded, by the promise of a meeting with the Scottish Executive, not to launch its campaign in the run-up to the election.

The meeting took place last Tuesday, but Scottish Care was left disappointed that there were no firm proposals on the table. The group had hoped the Scottish Executive would agree to press local authorities to pay more cash for care home places.

But the result - a promise of a tripartite meeting with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) - was so unsatisfactory to Scottish Care that it immediately stepped up its campaign. Next day the Aberdeen branch put the local council on notice that homes would soon stop accepting new referrals.

Scottish Care estimates that£50 extra per place is required just to meet standstill costs. It points out that local authority places cost an average£357 per place per week, compared to just£270 given to private homes.

The independent sector is also facing a raft of new requirements which will come in under the Regulation of Care Bill, currently going through the Scottish Parliament, which stipulates that all rooms must have en suite facilities by 2007.

Jim Proctor, vice-chair of Scottish Care, said that he was aware of the signals sent out by hiring Media House. But he added: 'This is a serious issue.We want proposals to help us in the short term and to see the establishment of a mechanism which will ensure a proper system in the long term.'

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: 'We recognise the urgency of this situation. This is a complex issue which will require the active involvement of all parties.'