Councils forced to bypass CRB criminal checks

6 Jun 02
Local authorities are resorting to employing staff before criminal checks are complete while the Criminal Records Bureau has turned to India this week to solve its 30,000 backlog in applications.

07 June 2002

The Association of Directors of Social Services said councils were being forced to make 'informed risk assessments' to ensure vital positions were filled. A number of authorities are also relying on staff making personal declarations on their previous criminal records while checks are pending.

'There are incredible delays in getting clearance back,' said David Wright, director of social services at Norfolk County Council. 'Each director is having to make decisions on how to fill gaps. People are appointing staff ahead of records coming back. They shouldn't but they have to make a decision. Others are simply not employing people at all.'

Wright told Public Finance that the chronic CRB delays were 'adding a layer of stress' to social services, since councils were unable to recruit for positions that involved unsupervised access to children without full checks. Potential foster parents are also being hit, adding to delays getting children out of council care.

Teaching unions also warned that staff could lose their jobs if they inadvertently fail to disclose information in personal declarations. 'Police records may contain details of traffic violations, which could leave teachers open to dismissal on the grounds of failing to disclose the offence,' said Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the NASUWT.

According to the Home Office, the CRB, which is designed to be a one-stop shop providing criminal checks for public and voluntary sector staff, is still processing just 20% of applications within its target time of three weeks – the same figure as at May 22. Average checks are taking up to two months to complete.

The CRB's failure to improve its performance is being cited as the reason behind the decision to outsource the bureau's data processing to a centre in India. The department had mooted the idea several weeks ago, but sources said it was seen as a last resort.

It was keen, however, to point out that this was an interim measure that would be reviewed once the CRB met its performance targets – now estimated to be some time in July. It also said that this is not a precedent – a spokesman said the Student Loans Company was forced to do the same in the 1990s.

The use of a centre in India is the latest in a series of moves to bail out the CRB since it opened for business in March. The £940m public-private partnership between the Home Office and Capita has already been forced to apologise to councils for a catalogue of errors including losing vital paperwork as well as the huge delays in vetting staff.

According to the CRB, it is liable to 'be held accountable' if it fails to meet its performance targets, but so far the Home Office has refused to say whether Capita will be fined, citing 'commercial confidentiality'.


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