Calls for Labour MSP to resign over letters to schoolchildren

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Labour MSP Karen Whitefield was under pressure to resign last night over personal letters she is said to have sent to hundreds of local primary seven schoolchildren.

It is claimed that Ms Whitefield, who is the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts and the shadow minister for Children and Early Years, sent the letters after receiving personal details that had been obtained from school databases.


Labour MSP Karen Whitefield was under pressure to resign last night over personal letters she is said to have sent to hundreds of local primary seven schoolchildren.

It is claimed that Ms Whitefield, who is the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts and the shadow minister for Children and Early Years, sent the letters after receiving personal details that had been obtained from school databases.

The personally addressed letters, drafted on Scottish Parliament notepaper paid for by the taxpayer, were then handed out to each child by their respective headteacher.  Under parliamentary rules, MSPs cannot use public funds for party political activities.

Ms Whitefield claimed that handing out such letters, which were intended as a “gesture of congratulation”, was a long standing practice and that permission had been given by the school heads.  The Labour MSP also claimed that the personal information had been passed on to her by the schools themselves.

However Scottish Government Minister Alex Neil called Ms Whitefields actions “totally reprehensible and irresponsible” and questioned the legality of handing out such personal information. He also demanded that she resign as convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee.

Mr Neil said:
“I am very concerned at the breach of the Data Protection Act by Karen Whitefield whereby she obtained the databases for every primary school child in her constituency from local headteachers.”

Mr Neil added:
“The Parliament’s Education Committee has within its remit the protection of children. Given her actions Karen Whitefield no longer has the credibility and integrity needed to convene such a Committee and she should resign forewith as its Convener.

“She boasts that John Reid and her have had access and used these databases for years. That makes matters worse, not better.”

Mr Neil said that obtaining the information without the permission of the pupil’s parents raised many questions and demanded to know if any of the children were the subject of a Child Protection Order.  He also called on the Labour MSP to clarify whether her staff had access to the information and, if so, whether they had clearance from Disclosure Scotland.  The minister called on Ms Whitefield to give a public guarantee never to use the information again and to publicly apologise to the parents. 

North Lanarkshire Council are reported to be carrying out an investigation into the allegations.  A spokesman for the Labour run local authority said:
“We are concerned by these allegations.

“Comprehensive guidance to headteachers is issued on the subject of personal data and all headteachers are expected to adhere to this guidance.

“We will now conduct a full investigation into the circumstances. It will not be complete until the headteachers return to work at the end of next week. Thereafter, we will take any appropriate action required.”

Karen Whitefield defended her actions saying:
“Each June, I enjoy writing to primary seven pupils who will move to high school after the summer break. This is a long established practice.

“Over the years, I have received nothing but positive feedback from parents, teachers and pupils.”

Repeat of 2001
This is the second such incident involving North Lanarkshire Council and Labour politicians.

In 2001 a similar incident involving the local authority and Labour politicians resulted in an investigation by the Information Commission after angry parents and teachers complained to the local education authority.

Then, former First Minister Jack McConnell who was education Minister in 2001, and Labour MP Frank Roy tried to obtain the personal details of all children due to move on to secondary education.  North Lanarkshire Council provided the pair with the names of all head teachers in the area.

McConnell and Roy drafted letters to be given to the pupils.  The Labour run local authority then vetted the letters before agreeing to ask teachers to distribute them, the letters were then sent out to children at six schools in North Lanarkshire.

The stunt caused outrage amongst many teachers who complained to their Union.  It led to the Union complaining directly to North Lanarkshire Council.

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