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Children's Information Sharing Index

Volume 453: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what progress he has made in developing the proposals for the children’s information sharing index; and if he will make a statement. (105972)

The information sharing index will aid more effective prevention and early intervention as a tool to support practitioners to improve outcomes for children, and is therefore a key element of the Every Child Matters programme.

On 8 December 2005, the Government announced their intention to implement a national information sharing index across all 150 local authorities in England by the end of 2008. The Government are committing substantial resources to implement the index—one-off implementation costs will total £224 million over the next three years, and £41 million per year thereafter to cover operating costs, most of which will pay for the additional staff needed to ensure the on-going security, accuracy and audit of the index. My Department has made provision to fund both set-up and operating costs, so that the costs to local authorities will not result in a pressure on the council tax.

We have now entered the detailed design and pre-deployment phase of the index. To support this, details of the £12 million index local authority funding for 2006-07 were announced in April 2006. In October, a further funding allocation, totalling £29.8 million, was announced, covering the period 2007-08. This funding is being made available to enable local authorities to undertake necessary work in respect of readiness assessment and local pre-deployment work to prepare for the national implementation of the index. We have also developed an implementation toolkit to provide practical support for local authorities during this phase.

Additional funding of £4.14 million is being provided in the 2007-08 allocation to the first wave of 17 ‘early adopter’ local authorities, based in the North West.

Earlier this year, we conducted data matching trials under the Information Sharing Index (England) Regulations 2006. The trials were intended to provide an early indication of the expected level of data matching for the full national Index. Samples of basic identifying information were supplied from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Department of Health (DH), the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and nine local authorities. The results were in line with expectations and support the strategy underpinning the index business case of using data from a number of existing national and local sources.

Currently, we are consulting on draft affirmative resolution regulations to be made under section 12 of the Children Act 2004, which will govern the operation of the index. Consultation closes on 14 December. Subject to the will of Parliament, we expect the regulations to be in force by spring 2007. Also in spring 2007 we will publish for public consultation, statutory guidance, which will support operators and users of the index users in exercising their statutory duties in relation to the index.

Further milestones are:

From late spring or early summer of 2007, we will have created initial records for each child in England, drawn from key national data sources;

The first index release, which will include those initial records, will be deployed to the first wave of early adopter local authorities by the summer of 2007.

The index will then be rolled out progressively so that, by the end of 2008, it will be available in all local authorities in England.

There have been some inaccurate and misleading press articles following the publication of the Foundation for Policy Information Research report “Children’s Databases—Safety and Privacy”. Their findings are based largely on personal views rather than firm evidence and, in some cases, relate to information that is over six months old. The report also contains numerous factual inaccuracies that were either not checked with me or my Department. The information sharing index will contain only the basic details of every child, end details, for example a GP or social worker, who are in contact with them. It will not contain case information or any subjective judgment about a child or their parents. It will not hold information about vaccinations, fruit and vegetable consumption or educational attainment. To say that it can be used to predict the future outcome for a child is nonsense.

The index is being developed in response to a key recommendation of Lord Laming following his inquiry in to the tragic death of Victoria Climbié. It is being developed in consultation with children’s work force practitioners and will enable them to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively by providing them with contact details for other services working with the same child. Security is a key concern and access to the index will be tightly controlled and audited.

Our over-riding goal is to improve the outcomes for children, young people and families. The information sharing index will be a vital part of delivering early intervention for children who need additional services and effective safeguarding for children at risk of harm.