Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by The Boys' Brigade


  1.  The Boys' Brigade is a long established (founded 1883) Christian Youth organisation which provides youth work programmes for boys and young men aged six to eighteen. There are around 2,000 units around the United Kingdom, most of which are based on a church. The organisation works with around 90,000 boys with around 18,000 voluntary leaders. Although church based the organisation is open to all boys and young men of any faith or no faith but it is a requirement that registered leaders are members or adherents of a church.

  2.  The Boys' Brigade welcomes the establishment of the CRB as an additional facility we can use in the process of appointing leaders. We already have well developed procedures for the selection, training and supervision of leaders. Appointments are made for five years and re-registration is conditional upon additional training being undertaken. Leaders who prove unsatisfactory for any reason may be removed.

  3.  We regard Criminal Record Checks as an additional facility and must never replace existing procedures. As a church based organisation the vast majority of leaders come from within the church and are therefore often very well known to the nominating body. Indeed, many leaders will have joined the organisation as a child and grown up through it. It is relatively uncommon for a potential leader to be unknown except in cases where he or she has recently moved into the area. Ideally, we would have wished to use criminal record checks in those cases only. However, we are advised that our insurers are likely to demand that checks are made on all new leaders and some local authorities, on whom some of our units rely for funding, resources, use of premises etc, will require checks to be carried out on all leaders.

  4.  If the CRB is to deliver an efficient and effective service it is vital that it responds quickly and accurately.

  5.  Our leaders are nominated by the church to which the BB unit belongs, enrolled by the Battalion (group of companies in a defined area—there are around 120 Battalions in England and Wales) and then registered by Headquarters. Potential leaders may not have unsupervised responsibility for young people until confirmation of registration is received. We envisage that criminal record checks will be made at the registration stage and it is likely that a dedicated member of Headquarters staff will be appointed for this purpose since we register between 3,000 and 4,000 new leaders each year.

  Ideally, it will be possible to obtain checks electronically. This may appear at first sight unrealistic but it needs to be borne in mind that the vast majority of our enquiries will produce a nil response. That is to say the applicant has no record. Therefore, in those cases it would be helpful to have an immediate response even if, on the rare occasions an applicant did have previous offences, we have to wait for a written response.

  In any case the response by CRB must aim to be in a matter of days rather than weeks.

  6.  It is crucial that we can depend on a very high degree of reliability of the checks. Asking for criminal record checks for volunteers is a sensitive matter at the best of times, even more so when they are respected church members, and it would be devastating for the volunteer and for us if we declined the services of a volunteer based on inaccurate information.

  7.  The matter of charging for checks is also a very sensitive matter. It is very difficult to obtain sufficient leaders for all our units and there often has to be a great deal of persuasion. We do not, therefore, think that we can then ask the volunteer to pay the fee for a criminal record check. Whether we expect the churches, local company or Headquarters to pay the fee it will mean a considerable strain on already slender resources. In our case we estimate a cost of around £30,000 a year to pay for checks and administer the scheme. We are already struggling to balance our budget and if we have to take on this additional cost then there will have to be a corresponding reduction in work elsewhere and that will involve staff directly concerned with youth work delivery.

  As a UK organisation we are faced with free checks for leaders in Scotland and Northern Ireland but a charge in England and Wales. It cannot but be seen as a tax on volunteering in England and Wales.

  We are a partner with the Department for Education and Employment in delivering the Millennium Volunteers Project. An underlying principle of Millennium Volunteers is that those who volunteer should not experience financial loss and therefore any necessary criminal record checks will be paid for through the project budget. It raises the possibility of a new leader who is also a Millennium Volunteer having the check paid for whilst another will not. There is an inconsistency in government philosophy here and this, with the previous point, suggests that joined up thinking has been omitted.

  At the risk of labouring the point it should be pointed out that the demands on volunteers these days to commit themselves to continuous training and assessment are already quite onerous and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find leaders.

  Whilst £10 might appear a relatively modest sum and well within the means of most people it represents something much more. The days when the only qualification required to be a volunteer was to be prepared to give up some spare time have long gone and rightly so. However, selections, supervision and training requirements have become much more onerous and to cap this with a charge for a criminal record check could be the final straw.

  It might be useful to reflect on experience in another field, that of finding suitable people to adopt children. As assessment procedures for potential adopters have become more onerous so the number of children being adopted has decreased and one can easily envisage a similar trend in recruiting youth work volunteers.

  8.  We see potential for confusion unless the arrangements for criminal record checks for the various countries are co-ordinated. There are sections of the population which are highly mobile and it is not unusual for leaders to move around the UK as part of their employment. It appears that if, for example, a leader from Scotland comes to England and is recruited as a leader we are likely to have to apply to two different agencies. For a UK organisation such as ours it is desirable that we have a "one stop" checking facility. More important, we see the potential for an offender in one country to simply move to another to ensure a clean record.

  9.  Finally, whilst welcoming this additional facility to help secure the safety of the young people we work with, we are anxious that CRB is not promoted in ways which will inhibit potential volunteers. Given the very full lives our leaders and potential leaders follow and the increasing number of regulations leaders must observe it becomes increasingly difficult to find new leaders. Procedures must be thorough but unobtrusive and we must take care to demonstrate that we welcome them and assume they are trustworthy and not make them feel that potential volunteers are treated with suspicion until they are proved otherwise.

Sydney Jones OBE

Chief Executive

11 January 2001

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