Morris intervenes in criminal checks crisis

23 May 02
Education Secretary Estelle Morris stepped into the crisis at the Criminal Records Bureau this week, granting local education authorities access to interim criminal checks to cut the delays in recruiting teachers.

24 May 2002

Morris met with Home Secretary David Blunkett, who has ultimate responsibility for the CRB, on May 21 to negotiate the return of a former checking system, List 99. This provided LEAs and agencies with a list of people barred from working with children due to criminal convictions.

The CRB promised to release this information on a 'quick turnaround' to allow schools to recruit for the new school year in September. Full disclosures will be provided several weeks later.

The meeting follows a string of complaints from nearly 100 councils and numerous teaching agencies over the backlog in processing requests for criminal checks. The CRB promised to respond to all queries on criminal checks within three weeks. But LEAs have reported that it is taking two months to turn round a small number of requests.

Home Office figures show that the bureau processed just 4,000 disclosures last week, although this was three times the number of the previous week. It has sent out 1.8 million forms for criminal checks to public bodies, indicating the scale of demand.

The CRB, a public-private partnership between the Home Office and Capita, has already been forced to apologise to councils over its poor performance since it opened for business as a 'one stop-shop' on March 11.

Mike Walker, assistant director of negotiations at the Employers' Organisation, which represents local authorities, said he was relieved that the Department for Education and Skills had taken action. 'This will be helpful and gives a vital piece of recruitment information,' he told Public Finance.

'The CRB has taken some action and improved but the flow of information is still not quick enough. To say we are disappointed is an understatement. It is simply not working at all.'

The Home Office confirmed that the bureau was meeting only 20% of disclosures on criminal records within its specified time, but said it was improving.

A spokesman added that it was exploring other avenues to clear the backlog. 'We could potentially consider outsourcing data inputting to specific centres in India,' he said.


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