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Vetting database is mighty maths mess

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Home Office estimates for the eventual size of the vetting database look like becoming one of the most inelastic – and therefore least accurate – forecasts in the history of this government’s planning process.

Not even a recent announcement that government is considering legislative changes that would eventually force almost all the adult population to register with the database can shift them one jot from their view that the best estimate for the database will be 11.3 million adults by 2015.

The latest wheeze to hit the headlines was a government plan, announced by Gordon Brown in the pages of the News of the World in April. This suggests that "all young people will undertake some service to their community, and where community service will become a normal part of growing up in Britain". In other words, a sort of compulsory voluntary service.

Unfortunately, as the Telegraph pointed out at the weekend, "under the Government's strict new vetting regime, anyone over the age of 16 working with children or vulnerable adults will have to start registering with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) from November next year".

In response to this article, the Department of Children Schools and Families helpfully confirmed that "at present anyone aged 16 or older who frequently or intensively does regulated activity with children or vulnerable adults must ISA-register." Or, in other words, almost anyone likely to be conscripted into Mr Brown’s volunteer army.

This would add close to a million individuals per year to the total required to be included on the vetting database – or approximately 4.5 million between next November and 2015, which is the period for which the Home Office produces its forecasts.

Or as they put it: "We have indeed estimated that 11.3m people will be registered by 2015, as the Scheme currently stands. This is comprised of an estimate of the workers and volunteers in the many sectors covered by the Scheme i.e. health, education, social care, childcare, charities, voluntary groups, churches etc."

The question remains whether this insignificant extra cohort should be included within the forecast or not. Policymakers might argue that as this is merely a pledge to include a new form of voluntarism in the Labour Party manifesto, these individuals should be excluded from the headcount, as there is no guarantee that Labour will be re-elected. Equally, there is no guarantee they would actually implement any particular promise, even if they are.

Besides, in conversation with the Home Office this week, a spokeswoman appeared initially to believe this to be a Tory pledge.

However, it is quite clear from statements put out by the DCSF that this additional group is integrated sufficiently enough into government thinking for their inclusion to form part of a review currently being carried out by Sir Roger Singleton.

Earlier this year, following a public outcry over the extent to which parents giving lifts to the children of friends might be subject to vetting, the DCSF announced a review, or - as their spokeswoman confirmed to The Register - "a check of the rules on frequency of contact for the purposes of vetting that was definitely NOT a review".

Sir Roger is due to report back in December. His thoughts may lead to a change in the guidelines on which volunteers need to be vetted that will leave the estimated figures as they are – or even reduce them. It is also possible that at that point the Home Office may produce some new estimates – but we would not bank on it.

Responding to a question on when it realised that teenagers might need to be included in the vetting database, the DCSF responded: "when Ministers in mid-September asked Sir Roger to do his check (frequent or intensive issue) and he started working-level discussions with DCSF officials, the opportunity was taken to mention this point to him as well."

We leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions. However, it does appear that post-April, the DCSF took enough notice of Mr Brown’s promises for the issue to be flagged when the time came to review the rules on who should be vetted.

Nonetheless, the Home Office responded to this change, as it has to every single twist and turn in respect of guidelines over the past 18 months, by confirming that its model remains the best estimate available.

Does it matter? As we have previously pointed out, there is significant political opposition even to the vetting of 11.3 million people. It is therefore very convenient that irrespective of any factor that could lead to a change, the figure remains the same.

There are also serious questions - from a technological point of view - to be raised about the level of support, infrastructure and budget that will be required for the database. The support required for a database of 11 million individuals will be very different to the levels needed for one designed for, say, 16 million. Failure to apply flexible models to the design of such a system could be described as not merely pig-headed, but actively negligent. ®

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