Feeds

UK.gov apologises for Tory-bashing child database memo

Civil servants went rogue on partisan missive, DCSF Sir Humphrey says

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

A top government official has apologised after civil servants working on the ContactPoint project wrote a memo to local authorities that was sharply critical of Tory policy on child data sharing.

In a letter to shadow secretary of state for children, schools and families Michael Gove, David Bell wrote: "The individuals concerned have crossed the boundary of what would be expected of them under the Civil Service Code. For that, as permanent secretary of this department, I apologise."

Bell is permanent secretary at the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). He is the department's most senior non-political figure, in charge of its civil servants. The Civil Service code does not bar officials from holding political views, but says they must not "allow [their] political views to determine any advice you give or your actions".

A Conservative Party spokesman told The Register today: "It's good that Ed Balls' Department has apologised for the 'ill-judged' attempt to get involved in party politics, which is strictly against the rules. Taxpayers' money should be used to benefit taxpayers, not to do the work of the cash-strapped Labour Party."

In the controversial memo, sent in October, ContactPoint officials said Labour's policy of including information on every child in the UK was the best way to protect children.

They wrote: "A 'universal' system recognises that children move in and out of the spectrum of need and that it is not possible to predict the need for, or timing of, additional services.

"It is much less stigmatising - no judgement is required about who should be included or not. With a selective system, such as that proposed by the Conservatives, practitioners may make decisions about the needs or vulnerability of a child in absence of all of the available information."

The ContactPoint project was set up in the wake of murder of Victoria Climbié. A public inquiry found her abuse was repeatedly overlooked by government agencies, who would have been more likely to intervene if they had shared information. The partisan DCSF memo claimed that the Tories' alternative policy of only including children judged to be at risk may have failed to prevent her death.

In his apology, Bell wrote that ministers neither approved nor commissioned the ContactPoint team's criticism of Conservative policy. "It is legitimate for departmental officials to analyse a range of policy positions, including those of the opposition, and to brief ministers accordingly. However, any conclusions from that analysis should certainly not be communicated by officials outside the department," he wrote.

The Conservative spokesman said: "It is slightly surprising that ministers were so blissfully unaware of what was going on in their own department."

Bell will be "following up" the transgression with the individuals concerned, he wrote, and putting in place undisclosed further measures across DCSF to ensure no repetition.

ContactPoint has been delayed twice, first as part of the government-wide review of data protection following the massive loss of personal details by HMRC last year, and then by problems with its user interface, being implemented by CapGemini.

It's now scheduled to go live in January, when tens of thousands of teachers, doctors, social workers and police will begin sharing information on the contact they have with children. The Conservatives have pledged to scrap the database if they win the next election.

There's a copy of Bell's letter here (pdf). ®

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.