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Is Gordon Brown safe to work with vulnerable people?

Gov silent on whether PM cleared for voluntary work

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Opinion Number 10 refused to say this week if Gordon Brown will be subjected to the CRB checks his government has imposed on the rest of us ahead of the "voluntary" work he will be doing in his constituency as part of his over-spun staycation.

Details of what he will be doing, or what organisations he intends to work with are currently unclear, as a Downing St spokesman has said that he will be undertaking local voluntary work, but will not provide further details "for obvious reasons".

Speaking to El Reg, Downing St explained that this caution was necessary "for security purposes", and that no further comment would be made on the matter. Apparently, concern for the Prime Minister’s security also extends to the issue of whether or not he will be CRB checked before he starts work – and if he is, who would pay for such checks.

Cynics on the blogosphere were quick to wonder whether this was just a publicity stunt, with several raising the question of whether the Prime Minister would be undergoing one at all.

Now the matter has been raised by Independent columnist Mary Wakefield, who writes this weekend that she has already put in several calls and an email to Downing Street "to find out whether the Prime Minister has undergone the necessary CRB check for the particular activities he wishes to undertake". However, Downing St have been no more forthcoming to her than to ourselves, as she reports: "No answer yet."

In the absence of further detail, it is not immediately clear whether Gordon Brown does require a check. However, best practice suggests that if he is working for any length of time with vulnerable persons (such as children, the disabled or elderly), he would need one.

He should pick up the cost of any checking – although according to Disclosure Scotland, who would process his application, there should be no charge for "unpaid volunteers working for a "Not for Profit" organisation". However, this claim is rejected by Mary Wakefield, who points out that the CRB will not accept applications from individuals, requiring instead that people apply through one of the "umbrella bodies" – which charge hefty fees quite separate from the cost of the check itself.

In respect of the new vetting scheme, which will be launched in October, and acts as a further safeguard around the CRB system, the guiding principle appears to be that where there is even a remote possibility that interaction between adults and a vulnerable group might lead to the creation of a "relationship of trust", individuals should be checked and registered.

A spokesman for the Home Office is also reported as describing the vetting database as like a "club", which all decent adults should want to be part of and if somebody didn’t want to be vetted "there must be suspicious reasons for that".

The issue has also generated some controversy in parliament, with leading backbencher, John Battle, MP arguing that the new regime should obviously apply to all MP’s, and leader of the House, Harriet Harman suggesting that "common sense" would mitigate the requirement for MP’s to be on the vetting register.

Nonetheless, there is a growing sense amongst those who are likely to be subject to the new vetting regime from October, that "if people such as Gordon Brown have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear". More pertinently, the question being asked is why, if Ministers believe their approach to public relationships is so positive, all have universally refused to acknowledge any intention to undergo the process themselves. ®

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