Nicola Sturgeon ‘absolutely’ failed to improve lives of children, says children's commissioner Bruce Adamson

Scotland’s outgoing Children and Young People’s Commissioner has launched a scathing attack on former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon “absolutely” failed to improve the lives of children in Scotland, the man charged with protecting the rights of young people has said.

The former first minister repeatedly said she wanted her record in office to be judged on education, and was also committed to alleviating child poverty and improving the lives of care-experienced young people.

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But Bruce Adamson – Scotland’s outgoing Children and Young People’s Commissioner – said the past administration had not done enough.

Asked on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show if Ms Sturgeon had failed, Mr Adamson said: “Absolutely.

“I think all of us need to look at what we can do better.

“We have to acknowledge that the pandemic had a huge impact on children’s rights and it had a disproportionate impact on those whose rights were already most at risk, and I think that’s the really concerning thing.

“We really need a step-change in the way that we address those concerns by putting funding into those support services that families need, in order to get that early and effective support, because otherwise we end up in a crisis situation which costs a lot more.”

Mr Adamson conceded that being first minister is a “hugely challenging job” and Ms Sturgeon “did a really good job” during the pandemic.

Asked if he has faith that Ms Sturgeon’s successor Humza Yousaf will do a better job for the nation’s young, Mr Adamson – who leaves the post after six years this month – said: “I think the new First Minister may have made some big promises but before becoming First Minister, but we’ve not seen anything on delivering those.

“I’m really disappointed that he didn’t mention children’s rights in his big vision for Scotland statement to Parliament – it’s only mentioned very briefly in the written document.

Children and Young People's Commissioner, Bruce AdamsonChildren and Young People's Commissioner, Bruce Adamson
Children and Young People's Commissioner, Bruce Adamson

“We’ve got no commitment to actually bringing the laws forward that will deliver change, and then some of these questions around their commitment to universal supports like school meals raises some big questions.”

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The commissioner went on to say he is “hugely concerned” that “action isn’t following the words”.

Mr Adamson also raised concerns about the lack of movement on incorporating the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots Law.

A Bill was passed unanimously by MSPs nearly two years ago to do just that, but it was deemed by the UK Supreme Court to have overstepped the bounds of Holyrood and was struck down.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly pledged to amend the legislation and bring it back to Parliament, but no timescale has yet been given for doing so.

The commissioner – one of the loudest voices calling for the legislation before it was passed – said: “I’m hugely concerned there’s been a year-and-a-half of prevarication delay from the Scottish Government.

“We met with ministers within hours of the Supreme Court judgment – which we probably knew was coming anyway because the law did step into functions of the Westminster Parliament – and said really clearly, ‘you need these amendments back’.

“We were expecting it back by Christmas. Eighteen months later, we’ve got no timeframe.”

Asked why the Bill has been delayed so long, the commissioner said he did not know.

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Another piece of legislation, which would have enshrined another UN treaty on local government, was also knocked back by the Supreme Court in the same case and is also yet to come back to Holyrood.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it is “committed to making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up”, adding: “Ministers are committed to implementing policies aimed at helping to reduce poverty in children and young people, including the game-changing Scottish Child Payment, free bus travel for under-22s, universal free school lunches to children in primaries 1 to 5, and free higher and further education.

“The UNCRC Bill is a critical piece of legislation that will help respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights, and ministers are determined to bring the Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration as soon as practicable. Work to achieve this is well under way, including engagement with UK Government lawyers to try to reduce the risk of another referral to the Supreme Court on a revised Bill.”