Fresh blow to Scottish Government’s named person scheme

PA

The group tasked with drawing up a code of practice for a key part of the Scottish Government’s named person scheme is finding it “challenging” to ensure this is “simple, concise and accessible”.

The disclosure marks another delay to the controversial scheme, which was brought forward by the Scottish Government in a bid to appoint a single point of contact, such as a teacher or health visitor, to look out for the welfare of all children.

At the end of November 2017, ministers set up an independent group to provide expert advice in order to ensure the named person policy was “workable”.

Now Professor Ian Welsh, chair of this practice development panel, has told Education Secretary John Swinney it has found it “challenging” to provide the necessary safeguards “without making the draft code detailed and complicated”.

In a letter to Mr Swinney, he warned that an “overly complex code of practice would not be user-friendly and could inhibit good professional practice”.

Prof Welsh added that the group was now planning a “short period of targeted engagement” in early 2019 to consider “what would be most helpful for children, young people and their families”.

In response to the letter, the Education Secretary thanked the group for its work “on these complex issues” and said he looked forward to a report at the end of the engagement period.

When Mr Swinney established the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) Practice Development Panel over a year ago, he said the independent body would “develop a workable, comprehensive and user friendly code of practice” along with statutory guidance to take account of new data protection laws.

This work, Mr Swinney added, would bring “clarity and certainty on this important issue”.

The named person proposal had originally been due to come into place across Scotland at the end of August 2016, but this was delayed after the Supreme Court ruled some of its information-sharing provisions were incompatible with human rights law.

As a result, the Education Secretary was forced to introduce new legislation to Holyrood in June 2017 in a bid to resolve the difficulties.

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “No-one will be surprised to learn that the panel, despite all its good intentions, is facing increasing difficulties trying to establish a simplified and legally watertight code of practice.

“This is exactly what many stakeholders who were charged with implementing the named person policy have been telling the Scottish Government for months.”

Ms Smith said there were “very deep-seated concerns about the data-sharing issue” in the policy and the “these are not going to go away”.

She added the same issues had been raised by both the Supreme Court and MSPs on Holyrood’s Education Committee, as she questioned: “Just how much longer will the SNP continue to waste public money on a discredited policy which has virtually no public support?”

Simon Calvert, spokesman for the No To Named Person campaign which took the Scottish Government to the Supreme Court, said Prof Welsh’s letter “heaps embarrassment upon embarrassment for the Deputy First Minister”.

Mr Calvert said: “Rather than accepting defeat in the Supreme Court and leaving the named person to operate under the same information-sharing laws as everyone else, he insisted on trying to save face by bringing in a new bill.

“It was always a bad idea to layer new information laws on top of perfectly good existing laws.

“Thankfully, MSPs blocked the new bill, demanding an authoritative code of practice before they would even deliberate on it.

“The independent panel announced in November 2017 was meant to come up with that code. But after a year of trying they’ve effectively admitted defeat.”