Rising costs hit vetting plan

The government revealed last week that the cost of the proposed vetting scheme for people working with children and vulnerable adults would far outstrip original estimates (news, 10 November).

The second progress report on implementing the recommendations from Sir Michael Bichard’s inquiry says the system is likely to cost from 12m to 19m to establish, compared to an estimate of 10m in January.

Annual running costs would be 22m, before falling to 19m, both well above the January estimate of 8m to 10m a year.

The consultation on the vetting scheme also raised concerns about its funding. A summary of responses, released this month, says “some respondents felt that the resources needed to introduce and maintain the system had been underestimated”.

The discrepancy springs from a big increase in the estimated size of the workforce covered, from 5.5 million to 9 million people, with 2.8 million of the difference accounted for by employees in the sport and leisure sectors.

Steve Boocock, director of the Child Protection in Sport Unit at the NSPCC, emphasises the importance of including sport and leisure within the scheme. “After health and education, sport has the biggest contact with young people.”

Specifically, the government’s PE, School Sport and Club Links programme, launched in 2003, has increased the role of community sport clubs in PE and extra-curricular activities, he says.

There are also concerns about other recommendations made in the Bichard report.

It is unclear whether the government will meet its March 2006 target for having at least one person on every school recruitment panel to be trained to ensure interviews take account of child safeguarding. The progress report says “the intention” is that one person – either the head teacher or a nominated governor – in every school will have “had the opportunity” to be trained by March 2006.

The Department for Education and Skills says it is reviewing whether more can be done to increase take-up, although it is still considering extending the training to other school staff and employees in other sectors.

And the issue of when professionals should refer cases of sexually active young people to the police is also controversial, with the government set to issue updated guidance next month.

Draft London Child Protection Committee guidance, which calls for automatic referrals in the case of children under 13, has been criticised by the NSPCC and health and children’s rights organisations, which say it will deter young people from using sexual health services. The Information Commissioner’s Office also says that the London guidance goes further than a “proportionate response”, and Bichard himself has described it as “heavy handed”.

But Andrew Cozens, who represents the Association of Directors of Social Services on the Bichard implementation steering group, praises the way the government, co-ordinated by the Home Office, has managed the recommendations, describing it as an “excellent example of cross-government partnership”.

He says the government has listened to professionals’ concerns about referring cases of underage sex to the police, and says the vetting scheme plan is a “much better, scoped and costed proposal than the first cut”.

But the rise in the estimated costs might hit employers and staff in the pocket.

Under the scheme, all new entrants to the workforce would face an enhanced disclosure with the Criminal Records Bureau, covering both convictions and “soft information” such as allegations, paid for by themselves or their employers. On changing jobs within the workforce, staff would have their name checked against the barred list by their new employers.

The rising cost is leading to fears that a charge for checking the barred list will be introduced, with the government already considering higher charges for enhanced disclosure.

Cozens warns against charging for checking the barred list, saying it “would not be in the spirit of the Bichard recommendations”.

By the time the government reports again on the Bichard programme, next March, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, which will implement the vetting scheme, and guidance on underage sex referrals should both have been published and provided more clarity on the government’s progress in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.

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