Controversial plans to introduce state-appointed “guardians” for every child in Scotland have been criticised by MSPs.
The massive costs of the change have prompted concerns from Holyrood’s finance committee over the gulf between official government estimates and those from health boards and councils.
Opposition parties are now claiming that the costs have been “plucked out of thin air” by Scottish Government officials.
A “named person” for every child in Scotland – from birth until they leave school – would be created under the Children and Young People Bill currently going through Holyrood.
This will usually be a health visitor and then a teacher when the child gets older. The proposal has already prompted concerns it may undermine the role of parents. The cost of the changes has been estimated at more than £10 million to councils and NHS boards in extra workloads and training.
The bulk of this would arise because thousands more Scottish youngsters – about 10 per cent of children – are likely to need support from council services when the measures are introduced.
The report by Holyrood’s finance committee warns that MSPs are “concerned” the financial plan “does not provide any details… of the financial savings from the benefits of implementing” the measure.
The report also notes: “The committee is concerned about the extent of the disparity between the evidence from health bodies and the bill team in relation to the estimated costs and savings to health boards arising from the delivery of the Named Person role.”
It added “surprise” that the Scottish Government doesn’t think there will be extra costs for councils beyond the first year of the named person initiative.
The Scottish Government has claimed the extra costs would be a “one-off”, then incorporated into normal staff training.
But NHS Lothian warned “there will always be ongoing training costs”. “We will always have to do multi-agency training, and I think that it will be in a menu of wider training,” the health board stated in evidence.
The Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland warned: “We are unconvinced that the training costs identified are adequate for successful implementation of this legislation.”
The accuracy of the costs associated with the wider legislation also came under fire from MSPs.
“The Committee has a number of concerns in relation to some of the costings within this FM [financial memorandum] and notes that there is a lack of evidence to support the figures provided for some aspects of the Bill,” the report states.
Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: “It’s obvious the Scottish Government hasn’t done its homework on this, and it has plucked figures out of thin air. Ministers have to explain urgently why their conclusions are so different from the experts who have taken part in this process.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Areas like Highland and Edinburgh City Councils – with significant experience in implementing the named person – have indicated that the estimated implementation costs are accurate and endorsed the considerable benefits of the approach to children, young people and their families.”