Willie Rennie says it is time to think again about Named Persons

 

Those of us south of the border have been somewhat puzzled by the furore about the proposal for ‘Named Persons’ in Scotland. The Scottish Children and Young People’s Bill proposed assigning a single point of contact – the ‘Named Person’ – to each child from birth until the age of 18. Throughout the lifetime of the child the actual person holding that role may change – starting with a midwife, then health visitor then one or more teachers. As a ‘Named Person’ they are to provide a common contact for any other professionals, such as social workers, working with the child.

Originally the Liberal Democrats supported this proposal when it came before the Scottish Parliament in 2014.

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, writes:

Our initial view was that this seemed like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Surely, we thought, when resources are tight, we should focus on the most vulnerable. Yet this proposal had been developed by professionals on the ground rather than as a knee jerk measure from a nationalist administration that has tended to seek control as an answer to most questions.

That is why it deserved further consideration. My colleague Liam McArthur examined the proposals in detail on the Education Committee. We were persuaded that as it was primarily about making it easier for families to access services and support and that it did not shift the balance between the responsibilities of the state and families it should receive our cautious support.

Throughout it’s short life, the ‘Named Person’ concept has attracted some very strident opposition, mainly on the grounds that it undermines the rights of parents.

Just over a week ago the Supreme Court declared that the legislation could not be implemented as it stood, because some of the data-sharing provisions conflicted with the Human Rights Act, specifically in regard to the Right to Family Life.

Willie Rennie has now had another think:

I, myself, am a pretty stubborn individual. I do not make the habit of changing my mind. I do believe in the benefit of a single point of contact to make it easier for families to engage with public bodies to access services and support for children. I do believe in getting it right for every child. Despite the pressure in the recent election campaign I stuck with how we had voted in parliament.

Yet we now all think Named Person is broken. It needs to be fixed.

It seems the Act is not being implemented as intended. I have received reports from reliable sources that the Named Person remit is being over-reached. The implementation of the Named Person provisions of the Act may now be over reaching the spirit of the legislation with those assigned as Named Persons, undertaking roles and sharing information to a degree which goes beyond what the Act intended and for which they have not received the appropriate training.

He concludes:

Liberal Democrats now believe that the government needs to commission a review. The review would need to be independent and would consider the threshold for intervention, the power and duty of the Named Person, resources, training and the data sharing arrangements.

Without such a review I believe that the loss of public support and confidence will have wider consequences. We need families to work with public services to make the system work but if they have no confidence there will be damage to that relationship.

As supporters of the concept of Named Person, Liberal Democrats would make a plea to John Swinney to change before it is too late.

 

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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