NO 2 NP

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Cosy relationships can make for bad legislation #no2np #HighlandCouncil

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The ease of access that civil
society has to the centre of political decision making is one of the key
characteristics of Scottish politics. This has led to the development
of a revolving door between government and civil society. Former
lobbyists now sit as MSPs and former MSPs work as lobbyists. Similarly,
former civil servants have taken jobs with civil society organisations.
Often these organisations receive a substantial part of their funding
from the public purse and can have an important influence in shaping the
development of Government policy and legislation.
Although there are great
advantages of such easy access by representatives of civic society to
the centre of power, there are also disadvantages. Not least among them
is the danger of undue influence upon the decision-making process. Those
who shout the loudest or who have preferential access to officials are
able to influence the legislative and policy-making processes, while
those with other perspectives are too often ignored. That is why it is
essential that in the development of new legislation or Government
policies, a sound evidential basis is established.
One issue which highlights this
problem is the ongoing saga of the Named Person scheme. The Scottish
Government claimed that owing to the success of the scheme in the
Highlands in reducing referrals to the Children’s Panel, the scheme
should be rolled out across the country. It worked closely with various
children’s charities in developing the legislation. Understandably,
these groups are keen to support any measures which they think might
improve the outcomes for disadvantaged children. Now that the
information sharing aspects of the Named Person scheme has been found to
infringe children’s and parent’s rights, the Scottish Government has
asked these groups which supported the initial draft of the scheme to
suggest how to rectify the problem.
In his appearance before the
Education and Skills Committee recently, education secretary John
Swinney said that the Named Person scheme would still be rolled out and
that the pilot scheme run by Highland Council was, in his view,
responsible for a 68 per cent decline in referrals to the Children’s
Panel between 2007 and 2013. The problem is that a closer look at the
data shows that the results in Highland Council area are far from
exceptional. Over the last ten years there has been a decline in
referrals across the whole of Scotland by 72.6 per cent. Highland ranks
only 11th out of 32 local authorities in its track record on reducing
referrals. Other councils which piloted the Named Person scheme, such as
Angus and South Ayrshire, performed much worse, with Angus sitting at
20th and South Ayrshire at 30th in the ranking. Councils which did not
pilot the scheme, such as Aberdeen and Glasgow, performed better than
Highland with drops in referral rates of over 80 per cent. It appears,
therefore, that the decline in referrals to the Children’s Panel is due
to other factors, such as the fact that the police no longer routinely
refer all domestic abuse cases. Moreover, the claimed benefits of the
Named Person scheme in improving outcomes for children remain unproven.
This suggests that a more robust evidential basis should have been
established before the Scottish Government legislated for the scheme;
that too cosy a relationship exists between the advocates of the scheme
and Scottish Government officials; and that more attention should have
been paid to dissenting voices.
One lesson arising from this
example is the need for improved scrutiny of the evidence base which
underpins new legislation. Too often decisions about which organisations
to take oral evidence from are taken very early in the legislative
process, before the deadline for submission of written evidence has
expired. Parliamentary committees should wait until all the written
evidence has been collated and read before deciding from whom to take
oral evidence.
A second lesson is that the
Parliamentary Bureau and committees should be willing to seek
independent legal advice about the compatibility of legislation with
human rights and not just rely on Government assurances and the views of
publicly funded human rights bodies which might have interests in
supporting specific legislative proposals. Such advice should be
published prior to the start of the legislative process.
Thirdly, organisations in
receipt of public funding should have to declare an interest before they
can give evidence to Parliamentary committees.
Finally, there should be a
post-legislative review to ensure new laws do not have unintended
consequences, are adequately resourced and are being properly
implemented. The Scotsman

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