At a recent council meeting, Wigan Council, close to the city of Manchester, has voted to introduce DBS checks for all councillors. A basic DBS check, which was previously known as a CRB check or Criminal Records Bureau check, looks into the current criminal record of an individual, and is often used as proof of good character or similar. At present, people wishing to go into public service as councillors, controlling local budgets and making decisions which affect their community, are not legally required to have a DBS check at all, and there are calls for this to change. The DBS system has three different levels of checking, and there are calls for councillors to apply for the most detailed level of check, an enhanced disclosure.
Enhanced Disclosure for Councillors
The leader of Wigan Council has now stated that he believes mandatory enhanced DBS checks should be a requirement for all elected councillors. Many members of the Wigan Council were surprised to find out that at present, no background checks are carried out on people putting themselves up for election as a councillor. The leader of the Council stated his plan to write to the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, urging the introduction of mandatory Enhanced DBS checks for Local Government and regional elected councillors.
Children and Young People
The council also discussed the responsibility of councillors who engage with schools, community groups, and churches, highlighting that DBS checks are currently required for volunteers in activities like scouts. The Council argued that by overseeing schools and other facilities for young people, councillors are acting as corporate parents making decisions about how young people are treated. He argued that requiring all elected members to undergo a full DBS check was therefore the only course of action.
Although most of the council members agreed with the proposal to carry out some degree of background checking on councillors, concerns were raised about the cost of getting an enhanced DBS check for everyone, and the timescales for making this happen. At present, the turnaround time for an enhanced disclosure is around four weeks, and the cost of an enhanced disclosure is £40. At a time when Council budgets are stretched, councillors wondered if there was a cheaper or more efficient model for running these checks. Presently, volunteers are eligible for free DBS checks but as a councillor receives payment, this role is not defined as voluntary.
Other Public Service Workers
There are many other roles in the public sector which do not require any level of DBS or background checking, notably being a MP. There is a wider call to extend at least basic DBS checking to cover all elected officials in the Westminster and devolved parliaments. A further concern is that adding many more people into the DBS processing system will cause further delays for people who may already be waiting several weeks for their DBS certificate to come so they can start work.