EDITORIAL: The Government must foot the bill for record checks

STOVIN HAYTER

From April, organisations will have to get the Criminal Records Bureau to check the backgrounds of all staff and volunteers who work with children or vulnerable adults. Most people would say it's about time too.

The Government also announced that the checks would be free for volunteers, though only after concerted pressure had been brought to bear. But voluntary organisations, especially small ones, are not out of the woods yet (see News in Focus, p13). Even if there is no fee, there is still a cost. And in any case, the Criminal Records Bureau fee has only been waived for volunteers, not staff.

The Scout Association will probably find the £50,000 it needs to have 70,000 checks done each year. But for smaller organisations, the cost of employing somebody to do all the associated admin could well prove prohibitive.

The whole point about voluntary organisations and small community groups is that they are "voluntary". It is people wanting to help other people, or to contribute something back to the community. And many people would argue that they are at their very best when it is small groups of people responding to the local needs that they see around them. So wouldn't it be sad if the burden of criminal record checks forced out smaller organisations, leaving just the bigger, more professionally run ones?

The best reply that the Home Office could come up with, when we put all this to it, was that the Criminal Records Bureau had always been intended to be "self-financing". And with 300 bodies already registered to process the checks on behalf of smaller groups, market forces would dictate that their prices are "competitive".

For all the noise the Government has been making about supporting the voluntary sector, you'd have expected something a little less crass.

The real cost lies in administrative processing, not in fees. Everybody wants the checks to be done. The Government should fund the full cost.

There cannot be many voters who would see it as a poor use of a fraction of a penny of their tax bill.

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