Home Office under fire over key Criminal Records Bureau decisions

The beleaguered Criminal Records Bureau came under scrutiny by MPs
last week during a debate in the House of Commons.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for older people,
listed the faults of the agency, starting with its delay in going
live – seven months late on 11 March 2002.

“Given the evidence available, it is hard to understand how
ministers could have had the ‘high degree of confidence’ in the
system necessary to authorise going live in March 2002. The system
was not fit for the purpose and was not ready to cope: it should
not have gone live,” he said.

He warned that charges for disclosures might have to “rise sharply
to recover all the CRB’s set up costs”.

A report published by Burstow, who secured the debate, reveals that
the CRB was “drowning in paper” and that the decision to include a
paper-based application route for disclosures “had a serious
impact” on CRB capacity.

Despite expectations that people would use the phone or electronic
routes to apply for disclosures, in practice eight out of 10
applications were made by paper.

The report concludes that commercial confidentiality had provided a
“convenient means of clouding questions of accountability” and that
consequently it had been difficult to establish whether Capita, the
private sector partner which runs the CRB, had delivered the system
specified by the Home Office. The report points out that, so far,
no one at a senior level connected with the CRB has resigned and
that “perhaps it is time they considered their position”.

But Home Office minister Hilary Benn told MPs during the debate
that since October, the average number of disclosures issued each
week had risen to 40,000 compared to 24,500 in August. He explained
that “for all the difficulties of which we are aware, the CRB is
performing now at twice the rate of the old system”.

He added that the number of outstanding applications that were more
than six weeks old had been reduced from more than 70,000 to about
16,000 and that the aim was to eradicate by June the backlog of
applications that were more than six weeks old. The decision to
defer some mandatory checks had been taken so as not to add to the
workload, he said.

Concerns from the voluntary sector were also raised during the
debate. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations wants the
government to fund umbrella-registered bodies in England to
countersign applications for organisations unable to find a larger
body through which to apply. 

– Report from stokoer@parliament.uk

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