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Overzealous anti-paedo scheme not dead yet

Scale back and rebrand of VBS is likely later this week

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Volunteers and those working with children will only need to undergo intrusive vetting of their private lives in future if they work in "sensitive posts" or "have intensive contact with children or vulnerable people".

That, at least, is the claim made by the Telegraph, in an exclusive on the "demise" of New Labour’s much-maligned Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) last week. A spokeswoman for the Home Office was rather more reluctant to confirm that this is the case, telling us only that registration had been "halted in June to allow the new Government to bring the criminal records and Vetting and Barring regime back to common sense levels".

She went on: "The terms of reference for the remodelling of the VBS and of the criminal records regime are currently being considered and a further announcement will be made shortly."

This seems likely to happen later this week, according to the Telegraph, when the Government publishes the long-awaited Freedom Bill, which begins in earnest the task of unpicking some of the more nannyish of the last government’s legislation.

It is therefore slightly premature to be reading the last rites on this scheme: anything could yet happen in the course of the parliamentary horse-trading likely to follow. Otherwise, though, the VBS is on course for very significant shrinking and reduction in scope.

Key changes, according to a Whitehall source, include:

  • a shift to the employer of the duty to ensure staff are properly checked and cleared to work;
  • criminal record checks being sent first to the individual being checked – to allow them to check and challenge inaccuracies before misinformation is passed on to a potential employer; and
  • the removal of minor offences from checks.

This last move indicates a major shift in government thinking: hard-coded into the current VBS is the view that the system should not simply exclude individuals who had committed crimes in the past – but that it should also attempt to predict (and exclude) those likely to do so in future. This it would do by collating details of minor crimes committed, as well as interests (such as violent erotic films) that might statistically indicate a propensity for future real-life violence.

In addition, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) – which currently supervises the VBS – will be merged back into the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), creating a single national organisation responsible for checking into people’s backgrounds.

This was a key issue in the setting up of the VBS: it had been originally envisaged, in part, as a way to do away with the multiple checking that had become a feature of the CRB system. But it turned out that the ISA would not substitute for a CRB check – but would instead add yet another layer of bureaucracy to individuals looking for work. ®

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