Cornwall Council has commissioned a short film highlighting the importance of Safeguarding for both children and adults. The title of the film is simple. If you see something, say something.
I will begin by stating the Law is an ass when it comes to Disclosing and Barring Service checks for Councillors. I say this because the changes in legislation introduced by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 make it very difficult for a Council to carry out Standard and Enhanced DBS on its elected Members.
I repeated these words at today’s Constitution and Governance Committee where the issue of DBSing Members was discussed.
Under this legislation there was a change in the definition of regulated activity which means it is now restricted to undertaking prescribed activities with children, young people or vulnerable adults during which time the child, young person or vulnerable adult might be considered to be more vulnerable to abuse. This means that only those Members who are deemed to carry out this regulated activity can be subject to enhanced DBS checks.
Without DBS checks, it is very difficult for a member of the public to know if a Councillor poses a risk to children and vulnerable adults. In our role as Councillors, we do get invited to people’s homes to discuss local issues and these homes can contain children and vulnerable adults. Therefore, I believe the public – as far as we can – must have confidence that the Councillor does not pose a risk.
The fact is every councillor is responsible for upholding the Council’s reputation for protecting adults and children from harm. I firmly believe it is not appropriate for councillors who have been investigated and found to be a risk; or cautioned; or convicted of involvement in harming adults or children, to be a Councillor and represent the community.
A basic DBS check can be carried out under the 2012 Act , but this check only lists any unspent convictions. Basic Certificates are available for all Members and co-optees, without further eligibility criteria.
You would think if a Councillor served on any of the following committees: Council, Adult Care Policy Advisory Committee, Young People Policy Advisory Committee, Scrutiny Management Committee, Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee, Health and Wellbeing Board, School Admission and Exclusions Appeals Panel and Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust/Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust they would need to have a standard or enhanced DBS check. But they do not!
The only Committee which requires a standard or enhanced check are: Cabinet, Children in Care Education Support Service Governing Body, Adult Education Board of Governors and Appeals Committee.
The legislation does not allow a Councillor to voluntarily have an enhanced DBS check either!
Without having the ability to do enhanced DBS checks, I believe we are undermining child protection. What’s worse even if someone does have adverse history on their DBS check, the Council is still at a disadvantage as the changes to the Standards Board of England means there is no way of removing that Councillor from office. Another crazy change in legislation.
I feel strongly we need a change in Government legislation to allow local councils to carry out standard or enhanced DBS’ checks on all its Members.
Getting back to today’s meeting, the Committee Members did recommend to Full Council – who will make the final decision – that all Cornwall Councillors should have at least the basic DBS, with those who are eligible under the set criteria having the enhanced check.
This may not be perfect – but it is better than not having any checks at all for the whole membership. And yes, I have had an enhanced check.
To read the full report discussed today, click HERE
Cornwall Council has released a further statement in reference to Alex Folkes it is as follows:
The Council has an overriding responsibility to safeguard the welfare of children and young people in Cornwall. After receiving the initial information raising serious child protection concerns relating to Councillor Folkes on 16 October, we launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances. As part of the investigation we were given information by the police which was assessed by the Local Authority’s Designated Officer (LADO) as part of the Council’s formal safeguarding process. Based on the information supplied by the police at this stage, the LADO process concluded that Councillor Folkes represented a ‘serious and enduring risk to children.’ This decision was later confirmed by additional information supplied by the police. This led to the Director for Education, Health and Social Care writing to schools and children’s settings in the Launceston area.
We took legal advice on all aspects of this matter in order to make certain that the process was conducted fairly and properly and in the interests of ensuring the maximum safety of children in Cornwall. We are confident that the investigation, which was aided by the police, has been dealt with appropriately and all proportional steps have been taken to ensure children in Cornwall are protected to the maximum possible degree.
The Council also took legal advice on when it could share details of the evidence which had been provided to the LADO with Councillor Folkes and provided him with the information as soon as it was legally able to do so.
An internal investigation is currently underway into the way the matter was dealt with in 2009.