Senior government officials have rejected suggestions that a
children’s database will be too expensive.
Information commissioner Richard Thomas told MPs last month that
the system was likely to be “phenomenally expensive” and could be
unworkable in parts.
The House of Commons education and skills committee’s
Every Child Matters inquiry responded by demanding
assurances over the cost.
But last week, Jeanette Pugh, director of the children’s
workforce development unit at the Department for Education and
Skills, told the MPs: “I have heard estimates that it will cost
billions. I can assure the committee that we will not be using that
sort of money.”
She also said it was critical that the system to improve
communication between professionals was successful.
Tom Jeffery, the DfES’s director general of children and
young people, said he “completely understood” the MPs’
concerns. But he insisted that professionals involved in the 10
information sharing and assessment trailblazers had given a
“positive account” of the IT systems.
The system, central to measures in the Children Act 2004 to
improve information-sharing between agencies dealing with children,
will comprise 150 local indexes operating to the same standards and
feeding into a national database.
MPs remained concerned that the database would not increase
child protection but join the list of government IT projects, such
as the Criminal Records Bureau, that have been criticised for high
cost and poor performance.
Giving evidence last month, Thomas raised “serious concerns”
about the database, including worries over how the information
would be kept up to date and accurate.
He warned: “As you collect so much information on so many
children you run the risk of losing the important cases among the
mass of other cases. It becomes very, very complicated.”
Arguing against the creation of a database, Eileen Munro, reader
in social policy at the London School of Economics, told the
committee that it was not a lack of information that had been a
problem in the Victoria Climbié case but rather workers’
inability to analyse it.
Children’s minister Margaret Hodge was due to give
evidence to the inquiry as Community Care went to