Behind the headlines

The Criminal Records Bureau, created to vet staff who work with
vulnerable people, seems to have staggered from one crisis to the
next during its brief life.

The decision to more than double the charge for carrying out
security checks on social care staff has predictably caused another
storm. The CRB, which is run by private sector company Capita, says
that it had no choice but to raise the charges for processing
enhanced police checks in order to balance its books. The cost of
an enhanced check will go up from £13 to £29 from next
month, while standard disclosures will rise to £24.

CRB managing director John O’Brien defended the decision,

“We said at the start of the CRB that it would be self-funding,
but after a year’s operation the current charge is not the
operational cost.” According to the CRB annual report, just over
half of all enhanced checks were processed within the three-week
target. It now aims to process 90 per cent of them within four
weeks. O’Brien blamed higher than expected demand for the

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the
“The Criminal Records Bureau should be one of the
cornerstones in the protection of vulnerable people, but has been a
shambles from the start. Many of these problems have their roots in
the fact that it was set up without proper thought or planning. It
is my view that the government needs to place a much higher
priority on getting the CRB to function and that means they should
put more resources into it. I also think that this service should
be funded centrally and not paid for by service providers.”

Karen Squillino, primary prevention
co-ordinator, Barnardo’s
“The issue here is that the CRB drastically
under-estimated the numbers of checks they would have to process.
They say that planning was based on the latest market research at
the time, but this research was obviously not thorough. Such an
oversight may well be due to the fact that there are masses of
social care staff working with vulnerable individuals who until now
have gone unrecognised. The high number of applications for checks
is a good indicator that agencies are ensuring their staff are
vetted correctly. Charges should not be increased. Instead the
government should subsidise the CRB to ensure that agencies are not
deterred from undertaking checks due to financial cost.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth
“The government fined the CRB because it is 50 per cent
inefficient. In line with best business practice the CRB plans to
pass the buck on to the customer. It works in the market. Why not
in child protection? Because higher costs will risk short cuts on
children’s safety. And checks are only the beginning. For
child protection to be a priority not a tick box, a wider change in
organisational culture and procedures is often needed.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and
“In March the Commons was told that damages had been
charged to Capita for delay and failure to meet service standards –
the damages were £1.8m. The government clearly considered the
CRB had not met the contract standards, yet now we are given a
litany of excuses and vastly increased fees. How did Capita ever
get the contract? Was there any effective competition? What can be
learned from this fiasco and what can be done to limit further
damage? This issue merits a select committee inquiry.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield
Institute for Health, University of Leeds
“Public sector agencies get named and shamed for poor
performance, yet private sector companies such as Capita get
rewarded! Not only is Capita getting bailed out yet again by the
taxpayer, but it is passing on the cost of its own inefficiency to
care homes, schools and charities. The CRB work is only one of many
public sector contracts held by the firm dubbed
‘Crapita’ by Private Eye, and it seems that the private
tail is wagging the public sector dog here.”

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