First Minister stands by named-person policy despite Tory criticisms

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Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to press ahead with controversial plans to introduce a named person for every child in Scotland despite claims the policy is now “broken” and in “tatters”.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson urged the First Minister to ditch the scheme after it suffered a fresh setback at a Holyrood committee on Wednesday.

A majority of MSPs on the Education Committee refused to publish a report on general principles of crucial legislation which the Scottish Government brought in to tackle concerns over information-sharing raised by the Supreme Court.

The legislation cannot be completed without a report being published – but committee members voted to extend their scrutiny so they could examine a draft code of practice instead of an illustrative version of it.

That draft code will not be available until September 2018 at the earliest, Education Secretary John Swinney has said.

Ms Davidson criticised the Scottish Government, telling the First Minister the policy “is a mess and it’s only her and the Deputy First Minister that can’t seem to see it”.

The Conservative added that while “e verybody wants protection for vulnerable children”, it was “now clear that Parliament has joined the public in no longer having confidence in these plans”.

Pressing Ms Sturgeon on the issue at First Minister’s Questions, she demanded: ” We should focus resources on those who actually need it rather than having blanket interference for every family in Scotland.

“We are willing to get round the table to find a fresh solution to this but first the First Minister needs to ditch this broken plan, because her named person policy in tatters.

“Can she simply concede that so we can all move on?”

Ms Sturgeon insisted: ” The Scottish Government will proceed with its named-person plans for the simple reason that they are in the best interests of children, particularly vulnerable children, across the country.”

She said she was “disappointed” with the decision, arguing it was “unnecessary” to delay proceedings, but said the Government would now work with the committee and parliament chiefs on the timing of the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill.

“In the meantime, we will get on with the important work of developing that practice,” the SNP leader said.

“It is about the protection of children, this Bill is not about the principle of named person, it’s about the information sharing that is necessary to ensure vulnerable children don’t fall through the gaps in services.

“If this is about the protection of children rather than political point-scoring, then I think that’s the way all of us should be determined to proceed.”

Legislation to bring in the named-person scheme – which will see a single point of contact, such as a teacher or health visitor, appointed to look out for the welfare of every child – was originally passed by Holyrood in 2014.

The Bill currently before MSPs was introduced after legal challenge resulted in the Supreme Court ruling last year that the information-sharing provisions in the original legislation were incompatible with human-rights laws.

It requires ministers to publish a code of practice for professionals on how information should be shared, but ministers only provided the committee with an illustrative version of this.

Mr Swinney has insisted it is not necessary for the committee to delay their report as MSPs will have an opportunity to scrutinise the guidance at a later stage.

Ms Sturgeon said a host of organisations working with children – including C hildren in Scotland, Aberlour, Action for Children and Enable Scotland – had wanted the committee to give the general principles of the new Bill their backing.

“That’s what those working on the frontline with children want us to do and I think as a Parliament we should listen to them and respond,” she said.

However, Ms Davidson said organisations who had given evidence to the committee had been “lobbied by the Scottish Government ” prior to doing so.

“It’s usually organisations that lobby governments, not governments that lobby organisations,” she said.

The Conservative MSP demanded to know if the First Minister “honestly” believed the named-person policy could be “salvaged”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I do think it is a bit rich for a party that has sought to politically undermine and delay named person at every juncture, and is now supporting a committee decision that would further delay the introduction of named person, to somehow criticise this government for it taking too long to be introduced.”