There has been a lot of talk recently surrounding the idea of criminal record checks on all elected members within local councils; regardless of the work they are engaging in. At present, the policy around DBS checking elected members is to only run Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) checks on members that are directly involved with children or vulnerable adults.
Councils such as Poole & Mansfield are considering blanket criminal record checks on all elected members whether they work with the vulnerable or not, whereas Cornwall Council have actually approved such a policy already. Cornwall are even going as far as lobbying the DBS to grant eligibility for enhanced DBS checks for members, something which they are not eligible for under the current system.
There can be no doubt that these proposals have been made as a direct result of raised awareness of safeguarding issues nationwide. There has been an interesting contrast in responses from each authority. Cornwall Council’s policy was seemingly met with unanimous support, whereas Poole & Mansfield’s suggestions have been met with some resistance.
The main objections have been focussed on whether it is worth spending valuable government funds on DBS checking individuals who are not going to be in contact with vulnerable people.
In contrast, Cornwall Council’s proposal is an attempt to improve the council’s image. A recent investigation found that the council “badly handled” allegations suggesting one of their Councillors was potentially a risk to children in the area.
It is no doubt that this case has impacted on public confidence in Cornwall, whose residents will have demanded measures be taken to prevent future issues occurring. These circumstances have eased the passage of this policy change and allowed for this proposal to be approved with relatively little opposition.
I believe this is the reason for criminal record checks on councillors being such a hot topic at present. Other authorities have undoubtedly taken note of the issues Cornwall are now facing and have put forward these proposals as a preventative measure.
Negative publicity of the sort being felt by Cornwall Council is incredibly damaging to any local authority, and will have spurred other authorities on to try and avoid a similar fate. The amount of money this issue will have cost Cornwall Council will be much greater than the cost of a criminal record check.
Of course, the main point of a criminal record check is, and always will be, to safeguard the public, however there can be little doubt that the bad publicity caused by issues like this is a big factor in proposing these changes. Increasing numbers of councils are reviewing their safeguarding policies to ensure the same thing that happened in Cornwall does not happen to them.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on all councillors requiring any level of criminal record check, regardless of their area of work. Please share your comments or alternatively if you would like to discuss this topic, I’m always interested in speaking with local authorities to hear their views on criminal record checks for elected members.
Local Authority Contracts Advisor