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John Swinney officially scraps ‘named person’ plan

Image credit: Parliament TV

John Swinney officially scraps ‘named person’ plan

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has told the Scottish Parliament the mandatory named person scheme “will now not happen”, as he announced the Scottish Government will withdraw its bill and repeal the relevant legislation.

The controversial plan, to assign a state-appointed ‘named person’ to every child in Scotland, was rejected by the UK Supreme Court in 2016 after a legal challenge was lodged by campaigners over the way private information is shared among schools, health visitors and other public bodies.

The scheme was part of the Children and Young People Act 2014. Two elements of the Act, including part four which “makes provision for every child and young person to have a named person”, were awaiting the passage of the Children and Young People Information Sharing Bill.

In January this year an independent panel tasked with devising a code of practice to address concerns over information sharing said it was finding it “challenging” to do so.

Today Swinney told parliament: “In trying to address the Supreme Court’s issues we have found and the panel has found it impossible to do that in a workable fashion.”

“What I’m committing the government to do today is to make sure that we put in place all of the support we possibly can do to support vulnerable children and young people in our society who need to help of public services in every respect,” he said.

In making the announcement, Swinney also released the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) Practice Development Panel’s final report, which recommended: “ministers should not pursue a binding code for information sharing”.

He said the legislation was intended to “act as a clear point of contact for children, young people and their parents to go to, should they wish to seek support, information or advice”.

“Where there quite obviously has been significant controversy is around when and how information should be shared by and with a named person,” Swinney said.

“I asked the panel to produce a code that everyone – not just lawyers specialising in data protection – could understand and use. They have concluded that to achieve all the aims I set them in a single statutory code is simply not possible.

“In light of this, I have had to consider how best to proceed. The mandatory named person scheme for every child – underpinned by law – will now not happen. We will withdraw our bill and repeal the relevant legislation.

“Instead, existing voluntary schemes that provide a point of contact for support will continue under current legal powers, where councils and health boards wish to provide them and parents wish to use them.”

Connect executive director Eileen Prior said the parents' organisation was "relieved and pleased" the plan would not go ahead.

"This is good news for families and children, and those working to support them. We believed from the outset that the named person system would have undermined the relationship of trust needed for families to work together with school staff and others," she said.

But Prior questioned what the changes would mean for local authorities who had already "gone ahead with partial implementation" of the scheme.

"What will happen to these schemes and how will everyone be updated on the fact that the named person role is no more? We look forward to hearing about the detail of this."

COSLA children and young people spokesperson, Councillor Stephen McCabe, said the organisation’s main concern “was those working with children and young people have clarity over the sharing of information”.

“We will work with the Scottish Government to ensure that this clarity is provided in a timely way. We will also work with the government to make sure the increased support for GIRFEC is effective and the role of local authority services are well recognised.”

The U-turn attracted significant criticism from opposition parties.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray said the process had been “a shambles”.

“The principle of the named person scheme was a good one but it has been destroyed by the incompetence of successive SNP ministers. They lost control of the policy, lost the confidence and support of practitioners, parents and the public, then lost the challenge in the supreme court,” he said.

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith called for Swinney to “apologise to all the professionals on the front line who have been faced with endless bureaucracy around this policy and the anxiety of not knowing where their legal responsibilities lay”.

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said his party’s skepticism of “the Cabinet Secretary’s bluff and bluster has been completely vindicated”.

“It’s now incumbent on the Scottish Government to reassure all those involved in voluntary named persons schemes that they should continue and that the government will provide them with the support they require,” he said.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said the news was “yet another humiliation” for Swinney and the government.

“The Scottish Government has wasted years of time and the goodwill of the people from the children’s sector involved in the policy,” he said. “It lost the confidence of parents and frontline professionals. We all want to see mechanisms to help keep children safe but this SNP plan was impossible to implement.”

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