Scottish Government to scrap Named Person scheme, John Swinney confirms

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has announced he has scrapped the controversial Named Person scheme.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has announced he has scrapped the controversial Named Person scheme.
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The controversial Named Person scheme has been scrapped by the Scottish Government it was confirmed today.

Six years after the scheme was first proposed, Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced in Holyrood this afternoon that it would not be going ahead.

Despite demands from opposition MSPs for an apology, Mr Swinney stressed the scheme had been about "ensuring every child who needed support was able to receive it."

He said the Named Person would have given a "clear point of contact" for parents, carers and organisations, though he admitted that the controversy around "information sharing" had resulted in the whole proposal being permanently shelved.

As a result the Scottish Government will now seek to repeal the Named Person elements within the Children and Young People Act 2014.

Mr Swinney said: “I believe that we have taken an important step forward in providing families and practitioners with certainty about how information sharing can support wellbeing in a transparent way which respects the rights of everyone.

“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 services 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 want to use them.

“In this way, we will support our children and young people so that they can thrive and rise to the challenges and opportunities that life brings.

“Only through continued investment in our children’s wellbeing will we achieve our vision of a prosperous country where everyone gets the chance to fulfil their potential, and no-one is left behind.”

READ MORE: FMQs: Ken Macintosh slams Scottish Government over Named Person leak
However Scottish Conservative education spokesperson Liz Smith said the decision would not see any tears shed by "parents, teachers, health and social care professionals and campaigners and by the public who had told the SNP it was a deeply unpopular illiberal and unworkable policies of modern times."

She demanded an apology to those on the "front-line" and to local authorities "who've had to divert resources" and to families "across Scotland for general upset this policy has caused".

Mr Swinney said: "It's really important we remember that the policy intention at all times was to put in place measures that would support and enhance the wellbeing of young people and children in our society. I will not apologise for trying to find the best way to try and do that.

"What I hear from members of the public who come to see me, is frustration at the lack of connection between public services in meeting the needs of individual families. I will not apologise for trying to help those individuals."

Scottish Labour's education spokesperson Iain Gray, said that today was "the mother and father of humiliating u-turns" for Mr Swinney, referencing the Education Bill which he has also previously dropped.

"The principle of the named person scheme was a good one but it has been destroyed by the incompetence of successive SNP ministers," he said. "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.

"Good intentions do not make for good government and this has been very poor government indeed. We have tried to support this legislation as have many professionals in this sector - will he apologise to them for the mess he has made?"

Mr Swinney again ducked an apology and said: "This is legislation which Parliament supported comprehensively. We have done our best to try and protect the legislation which Parliament supported - that's the duty of government, to implement the legislation parliament has passed and I've sought every avenue to do that."

The Named Person idea, which attracted criticism as a "state guardian for every child" was supposed to come into force in August 2016 but following legal action, the Supreme Court ruled that the information sharing involved in the scheme breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Swinney then introduced a new Bill which aimed to address the issues identified in the court case, but the Scottish Parliament's education committee demanded a statutory code of practice be written to give confidence to those implementing it.

An independent expert panel was established, but its report published today has shown they were unable to write such a code. Last month The Scotsman reported the panel had concluded that a statutory code was “not the right thing to do at this time”, and that it “would not be desirable as the complexity of this would mean it would not be easy to understand or apply in practice.”

READ MORE: Panel gives up on Named Person scheme code of practice
Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “Responsibility for this disaster lies at John Swinney’s doorstep. The Supreme Court described the principle of Named Person as ‘unquestionably legitimate’ yet the government’s arrogant and incompetent approach has resulted in the shambolic situation we find ourselves in today.

"Scotland’s most vulnerable children – and those working every day to protect them – have been badly let down by the bungling of this policy.

“The Education Committee’s intense scrutiny of the Information Sharing Bill, and our scepticism in the face 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.”

And Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “This news is yet another humiliation for the Education Secretary and his government.

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

Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government would now develop practical guidance and support to give professionals confidence to share wellbeing concerns in a compliant way, and to help families understand their rights under existing law.

He added that existing voluntary schemes which provide a point of contact for support will continue under current legal powers, "where councils and health boards wish to provide them and parents want to use them."

Addressing Parliament, he said many Community Planning Partnerships already operated elements of a "named person service" he said, provided within "existing statutory functions, under existing legislation, and have evolved over the last 10 years to provide early help, high quality planning and coordination of services. I want this to be something more families can benefit from.

"I want to be absolutely clear – this service does not require wellbeing information about a child or young person to be routinely shared without their or their families’ knowledge or engagement.

"Our commitment to these policies, and the practitioners who implement them, is reaffirmed today. They are in place. They are effective and they change lives for the better, without the need for underpinning legislation."

READ MORE: Government ready with Plan B for Named Person
Reacting to the announcement, Dr Stuart Weir, director of Christian Action Research and Education for Scotland, one of the organisations which challenged the legislation, said: “We welcome the fact that finally after constant delays and many a twist and turn, common sense has prevailed, and this creepy scheme has been consigned to the legislative scrapheap.

“The writing’s been on the wall for the flawed Named Person scheme for some time and today’s decision did feel inevitable, although it has been long overdue.

“We wholeheartedly support measures to protect vulnerable young people, but from the start we have been concerned about the potential for the Named Person scheme to undermine the rights of parents to raise their children in accordance with their values and beliefs."

He added: “The real tragedy here is the persistent failure of the Scottish Government to engage with critics of the scheme.

“From the outset, parents and teachers, legal experts alongside many others repeatedly made the case against the proposals but the Scottish Government, regrettably, pushed ahead regardless, at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

“Now that the Bill has finally been dropped, it is time to move on from this, learn the lessons and make sure future attempts at improving child protection in Scotland uphold the rights of parents, rather than undermine them.”

Simon Calvert of the No to Named Persons (NO2NP) group also said John Swinney owed the parents of Scotland an apology and added: “John Swinney has finally done the right thing - but not before time."

He added: "He’s eventually done the right thing, but he has done a lot of damage to public trust over the last couple of years by trying to prop up the Named Person scheme.

“Nevertheless, this is good news for families all across Scotland and it’s a great relief for a lot of people.

“If the Government had just brought forward a scheme that said ‘this is a single point of contact for families who want it’, that would be uncontroversial. If you had a family advocate, a parent’s advocate, then that kind of scheme would be well received. But that wasn’t what the Named Person was. Instead of being for parents, it was about parents and that’s what made it so unpopular.

“But I also say to him that I think he still owes an apology to families for insisting on still trying to get legislation through that breached their human rights, and he has a big job of work to do to unpick all of the legally inaccurate training that his Government has been giving to officials all across Scotland for years.”