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by Jan Cosgrove
National Secretary of Fair Play for Children
In an extensive and thorough analysis of the 2 Reports on the future of the Vetting and Barring and CRB schemes, Jan compares the outcomes with Fair Play's own (Out with the Bathwater?, June 2010) and finds that many questions have yet to be answered in detail before we can say the new system will be for purpose.
The Reviews carried out on the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) have now been published and propose major changes in the scheme.
The key recommendations from both reviews will be introduced to Parliament as part of the Protection of Freedoms Bill.
• to maintain a central barring function
• to abolish registration and monitoring requirements
• to redefine the requirements of 'regulated activities'
• to abolish 'controlled activities'
• eligibility for criminal records checks is scaled back
• criminal records checks should be portable (transferable) between jobs and activities
• the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) introduce an online system to allow employers to check if updated information is held on an applicant
• a new CRB procedure is developed so that the criminal records certificate is only issued directly to the individual applicant
• the Government introduces a filter to remove old and minor conviction information from criminal records checks
• the introduction of a package of measures to improve the disclosure of police information to employers
• the CRB develop an open and transparent representations process and that the disclosure of police information is overseen by an independent expert
• where employers knowingly make unlawful criminal records check applications the penalties and sanctions are rigorously enforced
• basic level criminal record checks are introduced in England and Wales
• comprehensive and easily understood guidance is developed to fully explain the criminal records and employment checking regime
What Bichard Proposed
VBS was conceived in the wake of the Bichard Report – the murder at Soham of Hooly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley. Bichard recommended (22nd June 2004), and the Government accepted in full, that "New arrangements should be introduced requiring those who wish to work with children, or vulnerable adults, to be registered. This register – perhaps
supported by a card or licence – would confirm that there is no known reason why an individual should not work with these client groups. The Bichard Inquiry – Recommendations for action 15
"The new register would be administered by a central body, which would take the decision, subject to published criteria, to approve or refuse registration on the basis of all the information made available to them by the police and other agencies. The responsibility for judging the relevance of police intelligence in deciding a person’s suitability would lie with the central body. The police, as now, would be able to identify intelligence which on no account should be disclosed to the applicant.
"Employers should still decide, based on good selection rocedures, whether or not the job required the postholder to be registered and should retain the ultimate decision as to whether or not to employ.
"The central body would have the discretion to ignore any conviction information judged not to be relevant to the position in question. Individuals should have a right to appeal against any refusal to place them on the register and that right should be exercised before any information is made available to a third party.
"The register should be continuously updated and available to prospective employers for checking online or by telephone.
"The register should be introduced in a phased way, over a period of years, to avoid the problems associated with the introduction of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).
"The DfES, in consultation with other government departments, should decide whether the registration scheme should be evidenced by a licence or card."
The Education, Heath and Home Office departments were identified as the responsible ministries.
Bad form Mr Clegg
It will be seen that it was the clearly stated intention of Bichard that there should be an extensive national register. The claim is made in the first report “ Vetting & Barring Scheme Remodelling Review – Report and Recommendations February 2011 that “there was a perception and fear that the VBS went too far. It would have required 9.3 million people to register with, and be monitored by, the Scheme and shifted the responsibility for ensuring safe recruitment too much away from the employer and towards the state” The fact is, Bichard recommended, and Parliament accepted in passing the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, that such a Register would be constructed.
For politicians, especially as high-ranking as Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, to now attempt to make party political capital, as he has in justifying the proposed changes, is grossly irresponsible and also flies in the face of the actual process that led from the publication of Bichard through the passing of the 2006 Act to the setting up of the VBS.
Reading the debate around the Act’s second reading in the Commons in 2006, it isw clear this was an all-party process, a very detailed one at that, mirrored by a similarly detailed consideration in the Lords where the Bill was first introduced, and that the Lib Dem Education shadow spokesperson made a considerable contribution. At that time, Nick Clegg was shadow Home Affairs spokesperson for the LDs and so would have been fully briefed. I took exception some months back when an LD MP made claims the Act had been poorly thought through. If it was, his party was wholly complicit.
That reading ended in agreement with no division, clearly passed by wholesale consensus in the House. For Clegg's lamentable claim to have any credence would mean he is admitting he and his MPs then hadn’t a clue what it was all about.
The period between Bichard and the introduction of the Bill into the Lords was characterised by what I felt, as one invited to participate for Fair Play, was an open and positive process by government and civil servants. One of the working parties set up by Education, on which I served, had membership from local government, police, the three departments and many from the voluntary sector.
It will be seen that Bichard intended, if read at face value, precisely the mammoth database (register) alleged. However, I well recall the debate on the implications of this in that working party especially when we realised that we would need to include all those working with vulnerable adults as well as with children.
It was agreed then that such a database, of those registered to be able to work with these 2 groups, would be unprecedented and virtually impossible to create and maintain. And that is why it was agreed that the task was more easily managed as being identifying and registering those not permitted to work with children etc rather than those who could. 2 Lists of some thousands, not millions.
There has been some sloppy thinking in Government, blithe acceptance of unsound claims – The 2 Lists that have been compiled are not in total in the millions but in the thousands – that is what VBS holds.
The detractors have been permitted to get away with the claim of a database of ... 11 million, then 9 million and now (at a stroke) halving to 4 million) when no such database exists or was ever meant to. The confusion, not helped by an awful silence from CRB and ISA, has been caused by the fact that the VBS would require the defined target groups to register, to be checked against the 2 Lists as appropriate. But that is not a Register even as Bichard recommended. What is being overlooked is that CRB is a registration process, and has so far processed many more applications than the 11 million claimed as being a database.
Indeed a registration process which involved checking against barring lists well before VBS was set up – the List 99 and POCAL lists which were held by Secretaries of State for Education and Health and were of persons barred from working with children. Those 2 lists, and others, were taken over by ISA and those on them considered for transfer to the VBS lists and migrated as appropriate.
I have asked CRB and ISA for clarification on this crucial matter and will update this article in due course.
Fair Play's Report June 2010
In June last year, I authored a Report for Fair Play, Out with the Bathwater?, in the recognition that a review would be undertaken. This was submitted to both reviews and in its 46 pages looked at the history and purposes of VBS and indeed CRB. The recommendations were:
i. That the future system concentrate on barring and that all LPI be sent to ISA for consideration at the point at which the LPI subject ‘s employer applies for clearance.
ii. That frequency of activity be disregarded and the existing lawful requirements on barred persons, aimed at safeguarding children and vulnerable groups, provide the sole basis for
requiring someone to be checked.
iii. That the current CRB system of providing all exempted Rehabilitation of Offenders conviction information and Local Police Intelligence be revised to be specific to the
employment situation and that in many cases this will not require the conveying of nonrelevant but sensitive information to employers. With regard to LPI, this will mean consideration of release of LPI which has not already contributed to a decision to bar, as to whether it is proportionate to release the LPI to the employer.
iv. That the scheme, to replace the current dual CRB/ISA system will be to ensure barred people are identified and mandatorily notified to prospective employers if they should attempt to gain employment rather than attempt to provide blanket information to employers to aid safer recruitment.
v. That current charging practices and anomalies be addressed and the government considers the options outlined for financing of the revised disclosure scheme.
vi. That any new scheme is the subject of widest consultation, that this is fact-based and not run by unproven assertion.
vii. That prior to general consultation, the multi-sector/disciplinary working parties created to work with the former DfES to create the ISA system are reconvened to consider proposals and also the sector Consultative Groups run by CRB/ISA are consulted at all stages.
viii. That after consultation, any new scheme be the subject of pilots if this is seen to be advisable to monitor concerns etc.
ix. That CRB and ISA continue as separate bodies having distinctive roles. CRB also would retain other disclosure roles not connected with protection of vulnerable groups as provided by the 1997 Act.
In our online consultation we had broad support for our approach from the large majority of respondents and we made their comments available to both reviews.
The Home Office/Health/Education department Report
now published makes the following recommendations – our response is given after each one
a) A state body should continue to provide a barring function to help employers protect those at risk from people who seek to do them harm via work or volunteering roles.
[R] Well that's a start. It may not satisfy the spikey people who wanted complete abolition, but, hey there, tough.
b) The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) should be merged and a single Non-Departmental Public Body or Agency created to provide a barring and criminal records disclosure service.
[R] Broadly, this is correct, we felt it was too much to suggest the merging of CRB and ISA BUT that is an administrative issue, not core.
c) The new barring regime should cover only those who may have regular or close contact with vulnerable groups.
[R] The meaning of this is not at all clear, mainly because of the confusion and misinformation about what would really have been the numbers. ED Balls in the last Government panicked and tried to reduce the number allegedly to be registered by playing around with frequency of contact as opposed to the real issue of opportunity to build and abuse trust, a mind-set very apparent in this Report. The proposals recommend the abolition of one of the two types of activity intended to be covered by the VBS. Regulated activity, that is the “regular or close contact” category, will continue to be covered. But controlled activity is to be abolished – that is, those whose jobs etc take them into situations where there are children but whose work does not involve that defined contact. Ian Huntley in two words. This is again an example of quantity of contact as opposed to quality. No need for the plumber who goes regularly on contract into 3 schools locally to be checked .... But Fair Play poses the $64k question – can such situations lead to the buildup of trust which can be exploited and abused?
The tendency to treat the child as being only in the working environment and not as someone who lives in a community in which an abusive adult may also live is a fundamental error. We recognise the concept of ‘secondary access’, we raised it in our Report and it is ignored entirely. Fact, if someone gains access to a child’s trust initially through a controlled activity, we can say that setting was the basis for that access and would not have happened otherwise in the vast majority of cases.
There is also another very fundamental area, and one where we identify a potential and serious risk of regression. It has been part of our law for many years that those convicted in the courts of specified offences are barred by statute from working with children and indeed being in places where there are children such as schools, youth and play centres, child care etc. Such people are added automatically to the ISA Children List. What has been overlooked again is that, whilst someone may be barred, until VBS there was no general mechanism to require employers to check the Barring List. Never mind the outraged authors, if one of them wanted to deliver a talk to kids in a school and yet had such a bar, s/he would be committing an offence. We fear any situation where such a person would be enabled to circumvent the law, we know parents support us (over 1250 responded overwhelmingly in our online survey last year), and our view is that it is not the place of government to encourage such circumvention. Parents when asked rightly do not want anyone with such a conviction anywhere near their kids’ schools for whatever reason and the law of the land supports them. I cited the example of convicted junior soccer coach/referee, David Lawrence, convicted late 90s for serial abuse, released November 2002 and back in a junior league by March 2003 where no CRBs were being undertaken and who had to be removed by a Court Order that year sought by the FA and others. What does anyone think Lawrence’s intention was, do they think he was ignorant of what he was doing in breaching his bar? The case of mandatory consultation of the VBS Barred List by employers is overwhelming.
d) Barring should continue to apply to both paid and unpaid roles.
[R] We can breathe a sigh of relief that “it puts off nice volunteers” argument has not held sway. Too bad if it did, though the evidence, as opposed to the detractors’ hype, is that it did not anyway.
e) Automatic barring should apply for those serious offences which provide a clear and direct indication of risk.
[R] This appears to be a truism, but monitoring of the VBS system was always a prime requirement in this regard and clearly there may well have been over-zaelousness or inappropriate identification. Court decisions have already begun to set ISA and the Vetting and Barring Board clear and appropriate levels. That will happen with any quasi-judicial system.
f) Registration should be scrapped – there should be no requirement for people to register with the scheme and there will be no ongoing monitoring.
[R} This is confused. We ask simply, will the employer have a duty to check the barring lists as appropriate? If they do, and we understand they will, then the applicant will have to undertake some form of registering in this regard – s/he will have to complete something like the current CRB form (which incorporated VBS) and then this information will be submitted to neo-CRB as now. This will be passed by the barred lists. The employer may be able to check against an online system to see if the person is indeed barred. Current situation – applicant signs CRB form, which is sent to CRB and checked against ISA Lists. Neo-CRB – exactly the same. The CRB form IS the registration.
g) The information used by the state barring body (currently the ISA) to make a barring decision should be serious in nature.
[R] No! We’d never have guessed that was the idea. The role of the VBB was and remains just such a task, quasi-judicial in nature.
h) Criminal records disclosures should continue to be available to employers and voluntary bodies but should be revised to become portable through the introduction of a system which allows for continuous updating.
[R] This really is a sign that no one has been very much on the ball. That is what would have happened with the VBS part of the original system, it was intended to be completely portable. This recommendation is at odds with the other report – see later. Again, why have ISA been so completely supine when it had a duty to make clear to the Government that this was going to be the case anyway, it was a main feature of VBS as and against the CRB system. One feels that the Independent Safeguarding Authority has acted with less independence than perhaps it ought.
i) The new regime should retain current arrangements for referrals to the state barring body (currently the ISA) by employers and certain regulatory bodies, in circumstances where individuals have demonstrated a risk of harm to children or vulnerable adults.
[R] This maintains the status quo, and is sound.
j) The current appeals arrangements should be retained.
[R] Given recent court decisions, this is interesting. The nurses auto-barred were successful in our courts but are now on their way to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. This seems to be saying that the current system whereby the Vetting and Barring Board etc are recognised, in effect, as fulfilling Article 6.1 requirements of an independent tribunal whose decisions can be appealed on grounds of fact and law to higher courts is not to be changed in the light of those recent judgments, but the VBB has to change its practices to enable compliance.
k) The state barring body should be given a power to vary review periods in appropriate circumstances.
[R] This would be reasonable on the face of it, given that behaviours and offences will vary in seriousness, but it seems unlikely this will have much practical significance for those autobarred because of convictions. Any impact is likely to be reserved to those situations where an employer made a mandatory report to ISA and a barring decision was made or to soft intelligence situations.
l) Services relating to criminal records disclosure and barring provisions should be self-financing. We recommend the Government consults on raising the cost of the criminal records disclosure fee to cover the costs incurred.
[R] Our Report made a serious point here, and that is the CRB system has been, and VBS was meant to be self-financing. No Government subsidy. A reasonable charge for an employer to bear, just like buying fire extinguishers. But kept very very quiet indeed is who has been paying for the volunteers to date. CRB makes no charge, nor would VBS. To balance its books and remain solvent, CRB has had to find that cost of processing volunteer applications from somewhere and mainly that has been achieved by top-loading the cost into the charges paid by employers for paid staff.
A stealth tax? At the least, our FoI to CRB showed it adds another 25% to the cost of an Enhanced Disclosure for an employee (£9 out of £36). Is this at all fair especially if the employer is commercial and uses no volunteers. The Review has ducked the issues and one cannot see the turkey (ie beneficiary voluntary bodies) supporting Christmas in this. Yet Mr Cameron calls for the Big Society. Whatever the numbers game of how many will be checked, if it succeeds as a concept, there could be many many more volunteers requiring neo-CRB checks, the more that do, the bigger the burden on employers. Fair Play for Children was born out of the volunteer principle, we know how it can work in play settings, for example I calculated that for every £1 my local Fun Bus raised and spent over 28 years, volunteers contributed in terms of time and skills at least £2.50. So we raised and spent £1.3 million – so the financial benefit of volunteering was considerable. But I feel it is dishonest, even with such a proud record, to trade on a hidden tax on commercial and statutory employers. In the current climate, such charges are another pressure on employers facing making employees redundant or even company survival. Mr Cameron, you promote the Big Society. Mouth and Money.
m) The new system will retain two offences; it will continue to be an offence for a barred person to work with vulnerable groups in regulated activity roles. It will also be an offence for an employer or voluntary organisation knowingly to employ a barred person in a regulated activity role.
[R] The recommendation surely could have been no other. But our question is whether or not all employers will face a mandatory requirement to check against the Barring Lists. We say this is crucial, the scheme would lose all credibility unless this is retained, mere exhortation to make such a check with neo-CRB is not adequate. Employers when given a choice have not done so and unsuitable and even barred people have got back into access to children.
n) Finally, the Government should raise awareness of safeguarding issues and should widely promote the part everyone has to play in ensuring proper safeguarding amongst employers, volunteer organisations, families and the wider community.
[R] This is not doubted. There have been claims that CRB made employers lazy about the wider issue of child protection awareness and good practice but the evidence is not there to back such a claim. Indeed, when we online surveyed our own membership, mainly employers whose staff and volunteers work with children in substantial access situations, we found that at least 50% reported improved procedures and training since starting to use CRBs, the rest said they had not decreased such procedures and training all bar one who said they had got worse.
Bichard originally said that the focus should remain on employers making decisions and that the VBS should do that – maintaining the aid-to-safer-employment approach of CRB. VBS in some ways shifted the focus to barring, taking away some decisions from employers – but this was always the reality even with CRB, for List 99 and POCAL meant that anyone notified to an employee as being on those lists was not allowed to work with children. Neo-CRB alters that in no way, nor should it.
So this first Review may change the numbers who are to be checked, it will change the way applications are made, and many of the recommendations are aligned with those I made in Out with the Bathwater? but there are serious questions around the basis for deciding what constitutes grounds for checking.
The Report appears to continue the assumptions about frequency and type of employment and voluntary activities whereas Fair Play believes it should consider the quality of contact, the opportunity to build, and abuse, trust.
‘Common Sense A review of the criminal records regime in England and Wales’
by Sunita Mason Independent Advisor for Criminality Information Management is the Report if the review commissioned by ED Balls during the previous government, and dealing with issues such as handling of Local Police Intelligence (soft). I was one of the 80 people with she met in the course of the review. The report’s recommendations, again with our responses:
I recommend that eligibility for criminal records checks is scaled back (recommendation 1).
[R] No problem with the view that checks for under-16s are not necessary, there are other routes. Also with a fundamental aim of the Report, to strengthen the Rehabilitation of Offenders protections in the system. What is not clear from either Report is exactly who is and is not to be checked. On the basis of what I have seen and understood, for example, nearly all the applications Fair Play receives for Enhanced CRB Disclosures now would be accepted under the neo-CRB regime. The Report wants the system to focus tightly on those working unsupervised or in regular close contact with children or vulnerable adults, and those in a much smaller number of specifically prescribed roles. The devil is in the detail and so long as we get a sensible definition of ‘regular’, for example, then it may be fit for purpose. But Fair Play will strongly oppose any measure of regularity which relies on the sort of crude ‘times per month’ approach of Sir Roger Singleton’s review for ED Balls early last year. Someone CAN create the basis for trust, and its abuse, e.g. working fortnightly or even monthly, especially when our concept of secondary access is considered.
I recommend that criminal records checks should be portable (transferable) between jobs and activities (recommendation 2).
[R] This is in line with not only to original VBS system but also the other Review’s ideas. This will clear up a persistent and common complaint about CRB. How changes are to be notified and followed up is a key issue.
I recommend that the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) introduce an online system to allow employers to check if updated information is held on an applicant (recommendation 3).
[R} VBS was to have had this anyway so this is a recommendation to do what was going to be done. Also in line with Fair Play’s ideas to some degree but we would go further and make the application process easy, online and certified with employer and one-time applicant codes.
I recommend that a new CRB procedure is developed so that the criminal records certificate is only issued directly to the individual applicant (recommendation 4).
[R} A different conclusion to the other Review which suggests a certificate to both employer and applicant, as now. Sunita, in effect, takes the portability idea to its logical conclusion. The employer presumably asks to see the certificate and can check its veracity online. One can see some scope for fraud here, which is why the current system has the 2 certificate approach. Possibly it could be strengthened if the employer could check online an actual copy of what was issued (PDF download even). One question – supposing an applicant receives a certificate and its shows Local Police Intelligence (of whose content the applicant may or may not be aware), and then withdraws – somewhere I feel a tad uneasy about the whole idea here. If the information is untrue, this would be unfair on the person. More thought needed on this idea.
I recommend that the Government introduces a filter to remove old and minor conviction information from criminal records checks (recommendation 5).
[R} Sunita and I spoke on this to quite an extent. We shared the concern that the current CRB system provides a lot of conviction information which is not relevant to the job in question and which may be embarrassing to the applicant. In 17 years we have been undertaking checks (VOCS and then from 2002 CRB), Fair Play found that a lot of the conviction information provided had no relevance to the post for which the person was applying. This militated against the principles of Rehabilitation of Offenders to an unnecessary extent – the CRB legislation (Police Act 1997)allowed for all information which normally would be covered by the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act to be disclosed to employers. Our view is that this has been ineffective and unfair. I was struck by one response to our Report’s recommendation on this, that only information relevant to the post should be disclosed – the respondent, for a religious body, wanted retention of total release of all conviction information on the grounds “There are some offences which although not a bar to working with vulnerable groups per se, might be regarded as unsuitable for a faith based organisation with high moral expectations”. This shows that the current system allows abuse of the core purpose which is to enable safer recruitment decisions not a filter for moral expectations. In an otherwise equal contest for a post, that practice could unfairly prejudice one applicant’s chances on grounds which are nothing to do with child safety. Such a question is one for an employer to ask at interview not have on a plate by abusing criminal records information.
I recommend the introduction of a package of measures to improve the disclosure of police information to employers (recommendation 6).
[R] “Chief Officers, who decide whether to release information on behalf of their police forces, carry out a relevancy test when considering this request. Part V of the Police Act 1997 states that when considering the disclosure of information, a Chief Officer must be satisfied that it might be relevant.” “I recommend that the test used by Chief Officers to make disclosure decisions under s.113B(4) is amended from ‘might be relevant’ to ‘reasonably believes to be relevant’” Here we have a clear divergence with Fair Play’s recommendations. We argued that the current system allows the police to be ‘judge jury and executioner’ when it comes to the release of LPI, and that independent scrutiny is needed at the stage at which the LPI might become relevant to a neo-CRB check. The current system allows wide diversity between Police Forces and even Sunita’s revised and tighter system could be less than satisfactory. In any case, surely the barring organisation/ unit should be aware of any such information and that would be the logical and consistent forum for such LPI to be considered. Firstly, does the LPI have any bearing on whether someone should be barred? If it adds to the case for this, the person will be given opportunity to see and test it as part of the representation process, and nothing gets released to the employer until it is resolved. If the case for barring is made and appeals exhausted, then the employer is simply told the person is barred. If there is no decision to bar, it is the vetting and barring unit at neo-CRB which makes the decision, in consultation with the police, as to what can and should be released to the employer as relevant to the job.
I recommend that the CRB develop an open and transparent representations process and that the disclosure of police information is overseen by an independent expert (recommendation 7).
[R] This would mean the setting up of another appeals machinery. If the system we advocate is adopted, such appeal s would fall in the remit of the neo-CRB system. Whatever is adopted music be compliant with Article 6.1 of the European Convention.
I recommend that where employers knowingly make unlawful criminal records check applications the penalties and sanctions are rigorously enforced (recommendation 8).
[R] A fair point – and have any employers even been prosecuted? How widespread is the practice of e.g. pressuring applicants to get a CRB check or a Subject Access Check (see below). It is unlawful.
I recommend that basic level criminal record checks are introduced in England and Wales (recommendation 9).
[R] The original CRB structure allowed for 3 types of disclosure, Enhanced and Standard, which have been implemented, and Basic, which have not. The Basic disclosure was only to reveal convictions which we not spent and the argument is this could provide many employers with what the reasonably could expect. The main reason for their non-appearance has been, in my view, the sheer number CRB feared would be sought. I am not sure neo-CRB could wax any keener and would suggest an alternative approach, of using the Subject Access Check.
The online definition of a SAC: “An individual is entitled to exercise their rights to obtain information that is held about them under the Data Protection Act 1998. This process is known as a subject access request. This is not a criminal records check, it is intended for you to see what details the police systems hold about you. subject access request is an individual's right of access to verify the information held about them on police computers. A subject access request to the Police National Computer for instance will either provide a certificate stating that there is currently no information held about you on the police national computer, or it will provide a list of all information held on the computer including all convictions regardless of whether they are spent or not and intelligence matters including not guilty verdicts, cautions, reprimands, final warnings, No Further Action decisions and fixed penalty notices for disorder.” One argument one might make is that this system is current, and enables the applicant to make a decision as to whether or not to use it in an application process. However, it is the case that ALL information would be disclosed. One idea is that the SAC could easily be amended so that only information that would be given under Rehabilitation of Offenders would be disclosed if request. Such a system could never be used where working with children etc was involved or in quite a few other situations (e.g. taxi driver)
I recommend that comprehensive and easily understood guidance is developed to fully explain the criminal records and employment checking regime (recommendation 10).
[R] Long long overdue.
The public protection system is a fundamental part of society’s response to the threat posed by a small number of individuals. It is vital that this protection remains in place, yet operates at a level that allows the greatest opportunity for the well-intentioned in society to work with those in need.
[R] Do the 2 reviews achieve Ms Mason’s laudable objectives? Quite a bit of reaction suggests unease, and clarity is needed. We don’t need a smokescreen, however, for any outcomes which are merely pandering to mythologies and outraged feelings of being suspected. I know nothing about being an author, I am not a media pundit (my pay packet says I’m not), and I have no need to panic as a Minister the minute the media decide to whip up a frenzy.
Conclusion - fit for purpose?
What is missing from both Reports is any idea that any changes might be piloted, maybe in 3 or 4 areas. We told ED Balls this was the right approach (as the Sarah’s Law pilots showed so well so that the hyped-up fears darkly predicted for that system were shown to have been the result of hyped-up speculation as much as anything). The lesson of the handling of the introduction of VBS needs to be learned.
Now we have the Reports, let’s also have consultation a commodity rather lacking at key stages of the VBS saga. Clear away the dog’s breakfast and also, a word to Ministers, even Prime and Deputy Prime Ministers: We would seriously appreciate it if you thought before you opened your mouths re this issue, some of your statements have shown prejudgement, all too often based on wild claims and political conveniences. This subject demands better.
It may all still revolve on playing the numbers game. If it does, then children will not have been served. Claims of a reduction ("at a stroke" remember that?) from 11 million (lower lower) to 9 million (lower lower) now to 4.5 million ..... The question, Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg et al remains not the numbers game, but whether children will be placed at risk by changes proposed. At this stage, there can be said to be some very good things coming out of the reviews, it could go further, but the politics needs to be taken out of this situation and real common sense put first.
Question: who wants to access kids, why, what do we know about them, are they known to be a danger to kids, who needs to know? On many many occasions, the answers will be good and sound. On a few, a mistake can prove fatal or appallingly traumatic - any such mistakes caused as a result of these reviews and subsequent changes will result in the heaviest burden of responsibility any Minister or MP supporting them could ever bear.
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