Sunderland councillors to face DBS checks to improve 'transparency and public confidence'
Councillors could be offered criminal background checks under a new policy being considered by Sunderland City Council.
Earlier this year, councillors passed a motion calling for disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks for elected members.
The council’s Conservative group, which launched the motion, have said the move aimed to restore public trust in the authority.
As previously reported, this included an attempt to sexually communicate with a child, who was later revealed to have been an undercover police officer.
Next week, the motion around DBS checks could become policy under new proposals going before the city’s ruling cabinet.
According to a report prepared for city leaders, the changes aim to boost safeguarding powers and promote “transparency and public confidence”.
If adopted, the policy would see all councillors being offered basic DBS checks upon election and subsequent re-election – with a record kept of all members taking part.
The policy will also cover enhanced DBS checks – without a check of the barred list -for any councillor involved in senior roles in education, children’s social services or adult social care.
This includes the leader and deputy leader of the council and cabinet/ deputy cabinet members for children learning and skills and health and social care.
Enhanced checks for other councillors would be offered on a case by case basis depending on their roles and responsibilities.
According to the report, there is no legal requirement or enforcement powers if an individual does not want a basic check to be carried out.
However, any councillor attending the Corporate Parenting Board would be required to take a DBS check before being allowed to attend.
If the outcome or refusal to take part in an enhanced DBS check causes concerns – regarding a councillor’s access to information or contact with vulnerable adults/children – action could also be taken.
This includes chief officers being informed to allow “appropriate safeguarding arrangements [to] be put in place.”
The report adds there are human rights implications in terms of DBS checks infringing on an individual’s right to respect for private life.
It goes on to say this could deter members from standing for election or particular roles over fear of private information being revealed “rather than seeking to hide evidence of risk.”
However, it concludes this could be outweighed by the public interest of “giving assurance to vulnerable people and to the public at large that elected members in a position of trust have undergone a level of vetting and scrutiny as to their suitability to discharge specific aspects of public service.”
The cost of carrying out DBS checks is currently £25 per basic check and £44 for each enhanced check – with council budgets sidelined for the scheme.
All information disclosed in DBS checks will also be treated with a “highdegree of confidentiality,” the report adds.
A decision on the policy will be made at Sunderland Civic Centre on Tuesday, September 17.