Has expert panel delivered knock-out blow to Named Person scheme?

The Named Person scheme has suffered another major setback which could sink the entire scheme.

An expert group set up by Deputy First Minister John Swinney to try to salvage the scheme has failed to come up with any solutions, after almost two years of deliberation.

In late 2017 MSPs refused to back the Scottish Government’s proposed Named Person plans until they were given a detailed code of practice on how it would work.

Now, official minutes show the expert panel, set up to draft the code, has admitted defeat stating: “The remit was to produce a code of practice so we need to be clear and up front about the difficulties of that.”

The panel – launched in November 2017 – has now finally concluded that: “a statutory Code of Practice that must be applied in all situations is not the right thing to do at this time”.

It added that “it would not be desirable as the complexity of this would mean it would not be easy to understand or apply in practice”

That conclusion could spell the end of the road for the scheme. Holyrood’s education committee insisted on an authoritative code before they would even consider a new Named Person data sharing bill, drawn up after the UK Supreme Court declared the original scheme unlawful in 2016.

Simon Calvert of NO2NP, said: “This might just be the knock-out blow to the Scottish Government’s state snooper scheme.”

In 2016 Supreme Court judges ruled the central data sharing provisions of the Named person scheme were unlawful.

It also instructed the Scottish Government to ensure that any future version of the legislation made it plain that any advice from a named person was entirely optional for parents.

New proposals were drawn up, but Holyrood’s education and skills committee wrote to Mr Swinney saying they could not support the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill, which was designed to address the Supreme Court’s reservations. The Committee demanded a code of practice showing how private information on families would be shared by named persons, before it would consider progressing the bill.

The panel was set up after Mr Swinney’s own draft code was rejected by MSPs. But minutes of the panel’s meeting in March this year – only just published – reveal that stakeholders “had little appetite for further legislation”.

Mr Calvert said:
“Poor John Swinney has dug himself into a big hole over the hated named person scheme. After his Comical Ali-style denial of defeat in the Supreme Court in 2016, he said the scheme would be up and running by the end of that year. It was not. The following year he was forced to admit to MSPs that his own attempt to provide a draft code of practice was a ‘misjudgement’ that caused ‘confusion and uncertainty’.

“Then, instead of just dumping the state snooper plan, he called in advisers to try and come up with a new version.

“Mr Swinney promised they would ‘ develop a workable, comprehensive and user friendly code of practice’. They have, unsurprisingly, concluded that this is impossible.

“Time’s well and truly up now. This exercise in social engineering has finally hit the buffers and must be dumped. Where does Mr Swinney go now? No code. No legislation. No friends on this issue it would seem.”

Mr Calvert added: “The independent panel announced in November 2017 was meant to come up with that code. They’re telling Mr Swinney there should be no new code, which means no new information sharing law. This leaves us with a Named Person Lite, subject to the same laws and guidance on information sharing as everybody else.”