Named Person Critics "Scaremongering"

8 June 2016, 16:55

Education Secretary John Swinney has accused opponents of the named-person policy of "scaremongering''.

The Deputy First Minister said the Tories had "utterly misrepresented'' the Scottish Government's plan to assign a single point of contact such as a teacher or health visitor to look out for the welfare of children.

Mr Swinney was speaking as the Tories used a parliamentary debate to call for a pause in the planned roll-out of the policy across Scotland in August.

He joined other parties in criticising the Conservatives for appearing to row back on an election pledge to push for the repeal of the legislation.

Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith insisted her party remained ``completely opposed'' to the policy.

She highlighted "very serious concerns'' raised by affected professionals, including on caseload burdens, resources, the sharing of confidential data and arrangements during school holidays.

Ms Smith said: "The key point, of course, in all of this is that those professionals feel that the additional burden of paperwork inevitably means that the most vulnerable children will receive less attention than they should. That is not a situation that they want to see.''

Ms Smith said there was also "considerable confusion'' among parents over whether the scheme was compulsory or not following comments made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that it was an ``entitlement, not an obligation''.

She said she believed there was parliamentary consensus for a "major rethink'', highlighting that Labour, the Lib Dems and some SNP members had raised concerns during the election.

"Everybody in this chamber knows, and in the wider public, that the Conservatives have consistently been and remain fundamentally opposed to the named-person policy, but we also believe that we have an obligation to address the practical concerns of professionals and parents about the workability of the policy.

"If that is not dealt with, it could seriously undermine the welfare of children across Scotland. That outcome would be unforgivable.''

In response, Mr Swinney said the principles of the policy had been endorsed ``in debate after debate across several parliaments'' and accused the Conservatives of ``political expediency''.

He said: "The Conservatives fought a vitriolic campaign on this issue at the election. They disparaged a sound concept, well-researched and widely debated, and characterised it as something it is not.

"Then they come to Parliament expecting us all to take them seriously when they talk of a 'pause' to implementation.

"The Conservatives are not after reflection. They want repeal. That is what they screamed at us during the election. Parliament should not be fooled by the temporary change in Tory tone.''

In response to an intervention from Ms Smith, he said: "When Liz Smith comes to parliament and asks me today why I think there is opposition to this policy in the country, it is because the Conservative party have gone round the country for months utterly misrepresenting the policy.''

Mr Swinney has committed to reviewing guidance on the policy for professionals, as well as information for the public.

He added: "I accept that the Government now has work to do to build confidence in this policy, to ensure the guidance is appropriate and to ensure that the public are fully and properly aware of the intentions behind this policy.

"We understand the challenges of communicating this change to the public, not least in a climate thick with misinformation and, frankly, scaremongering.

"The public deserves a considered, transparent presentation of the facts around the named person.''