Comment on Tory call for DBS checks for ALL councillors, upgraded to full post

Owl felt that this well argued comment, and ultimate challenge, from Tim deserved its own post, especially given his experience:

From what I can determine, government has on more than one occasion considered the question of who should be subject to DBS checks and it decided that councillors, by virtue of that position alone, need not. Anyone asked them why?

I do not recall a call by any body representing councillors that the government thinking is wrong on this.

Councillors who maybe required to interact with vulnerable persons, by virtue of some relative port folio, should be required to have checks appropriate to the involvement. That is not in dispute but it is the nature of the interaction/port folio not the position as councillor that drives the requirement.

I’ve heard some councillors say ‘oh but we visit the elderly or whatever so we should be checked’ . Well so do post-people, canvassers, painters and decorators and countless others. What is so special about councillors in this regard? Such visits are relatively rare compared to other home visits and if you bring in councillors then tens of thousands of others need them by virtue of their occasional home visits.

It is worth remembering that the sole purpose of DBS checks is solely to protect vulnerable individuals. It is not to ‘enhance’ the standing of those councillors who might like to think – “look at me I’ve got a level X clear DBS check”- or several as I recall at least one EDDC councillor stating straight off the bat when this was first discussed!

Having some past close working experience in the criminal intelligence gathering field, though before DBS checks as they now exist came in, I frankly don’t place too much trust in them. Most certainly I would not rely on them as a guarantee of character. They can and do give a completely false sense of security.

I have yet to determine whether Humphreys had, or applied for, any such checks. Should he have done so not least given some of the reports of his other non-council but ‘official ‘ work involving placements and other so far unmentioned work? The level of check needed for him would perhaps needed to have been at the highest level to pick up that he may have been interviewed over allegations (I still don’t know for sure if he was interviewed under caution as a suspect) or at what might be called the informed but reliable gossip level of criminal intelligence. (and the ‘gossip level’ is a minefield) If councillors should be DBS checked at what level should it be – again, what is so special about them yet isn’t enough for government? One cannot help but wonder why nothing was picked up through his lodge connections and passed on to authorities- my (non-member) experience is that some can be pretty tight with one another and I note, not all such memberships have been declared locally.

At the present time there is already a weeding system for applicants for councillor positions at the very outset though government rules- that though needs to be tightened and would continue to be applied nationally, (necessary not least so that there are no repeats of certain London Labour MP’s sons avoiding the restrictions or being required to resign because they had only been arrested for drug dealing when the form was completed and had not yet been convicted)

We should and must protect vulnerable people – yet we fail them constantly. I believe that far too much trust is placed on DBS checks which are at the very best, simply a snapshot in time and often incomplete especially in areas that matter most. Every single sex offender would be able to pass a DBS check at some point in time and continue to be able to do so until he or she does something that would raise a qualifying flag that makes them a more likely bet of being a risky character and ‘failing’ a DBS. Can a DBS check EVER protect the first victim? The claim that Jimmy Saville could have had a clean sheet DBS wise seems to me to be quite a reasonable one given he was given the keys for Broadmoor and Stoke Manderville.

It does concern me that existing measure are not smart enough – but this is part of a wider national debate about intelligence gathering, respect for privacy and labelling. It is very complex and not for here.

The local clamour for DBS councillor checks seems more political and profile raising than a reasonable and sound suggestion aimed explicitly at enhancing protection for vulnerable people at large. I fail to understand why anyone truly concerned with protecting vulnerable people would only argue for their district and not the country. Starting local doesn’t wash in such matters. That said, it is worth noting that arguing against it as a councillor opens one up to unhelpful ‘what have you got to hide arguments’ so I understand why the calls may go unchallenged . But, as joe public, and with some knowledge of the system, I can and do challenge the call. I challenge those parties suggesting it as to whether they are really serious about protecting the vulnerable or whether they have another agenda. Do you have a past and proven record of raising it nationally – which would be the sensible thing to do? Have you got the issue lined up for regional and national political conferences. Have you asked questions of government questioning the present system? If you have why haven’t you opened up about it? Let’s see the paperwork if you have, show us just how committed you are to protecting the vulnerable across the country and not just East Devon.

If such evidence is not forthcoming I think we will be entitled to question whether this is just a shameful diversion from East Devon Tories to deflect just how rotten some of their core members have been and how little they have done to keep their house in order, or something else.