Further erosion of New Labour’s Big Brother state looks likely to take place later today when Home Secretary Theresa May announces that the government is stopping implementation of the Vetting and Barring scheme (VBS), which was due to go live next month.
As regular readers will be aware, this scheme required any adult who built up a position of trust with children or vulnerable persons to be vetted by the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). Failure to be vetted would have been a criminal offence, with both employer and employee subject to substantial fines.
According to the Home Office, the scheme would eventually have covered some nine million adults; but our own analysis, taking into account social pressures to be seen as "safe", suggested a much higher figure - possibly as high as 14 million.
A series of critics, from children's authors to most recently the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), expressed concerns that this scheme was intrusive and potentially unjust. It would enable the state, on the basis of hearsay evidence alone, to determine whether a third to a half of the adult population in the UK could work in their chosen profession. The RCN believed it constituted a fundamental breach of human rights.
Voluntary registration with the VBS for new employees and job-movers working or volunteering with children and vulnerable adults was due to start on 26 July. This registration has now been stopped.
The Home Office, in partnership with Department of Health and Department for Education, are currently putting the finishing touches to the scope for a remodelling exercise, with details to be announced shortly.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: "The safety of children and vulnerable adults is of paramount importance to the new Government. However, it is also vital that we take a measured approach in these matters.
"We’ve listened to the criticisms and will respond with a scheme that has been fundamentally remodelled. Vulnerable groups must be properly protected in a way that is proportionate and sensible. This redrawing of the vetting and barring scheme will ensure this happens."
Children’s Minister Tim Loughton reaffirmed the government’s commitment to protecting vulnerable children, but expressed concerns that it would drive a wedge between children and well-meaning adults. He said: "Any vetting system should not be a substitute for proper vigilance by individuals and society. At the moment we think the pendulum has swung too far."
For Labour, Shadow Home Office Minister Meg Hillier MP said: "Labour had already reviewed and altered the scheme. It was never about vetting private family arrangements or infrequent contact with children.
"The scheme was designed to ensure that parents could be certain their children were safe when in the care of professionals and regular volunteers who may be unknown to them. Once again we see a kneejerk reaction, a symbolic halt and yet another review."
While the review takes place, existing arrangements under the Scheme will continue. The ISA will still maintain two constantly updated lists: one for those barred from working with children, the other for those barred from working with vulnerable adults.
Existing requirements concerning Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Access Northern Ireland checks will remain in place, and employers are still legally obliged to refer information to the ISA if they have moved or removed an individual because they have harmed or there is a risk of harm to a member of a vulnerable group.
While many will welcome this announcement, the questions that the scheme was originally set up to answer now return. The existing CRB system is cumbersome: it requires frequent renewal of registrations and also requires multiple registration, where adults have several separate points of contact with vulnerable groups.
These issues will still need to be resolved under any new scheme. ®