Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Scout Association



  1.  The Scout Association, along with many other voluntary organisations and sports bodies, welcomes arrangements for improving our intention to keep young people safe from harm. We welcome the availability of information that will protect the vulnerable. Our concerns are:

    —  The impact of proposed charges for volunteers.

    —  The unequal approaches across the United Kingdom.


  2.  The Scout Association is the UK's largest youth organisation for boys and girls. We have over 250,000 adult volunteers working with half-a-million young people. The volunteers work as group leaders, instructors and coaches, badge examiners, camp-site team members, lay helpers, etc. Each year we closely check 70,000 adults who wish to become volunteers working with "substantial unsupervised access" to young people.

  3.  We obtain personal declarations, we check the veracity of local references, we interview for suitability, we check our own national records (which are UK-wide), we check reports from media, then we provide training. This vetting and recording already costs us over £100,000 each year, which is part of our core operating budget as a national voluntary organisation.

  4.  Prior to 1999, we also had available to us, at no charge, relevant confidential information from the DfEE and from the DoH. In the future, such information is promised from the CRB, at a price.

  5.  Within the proposals for the CRB, only the Enhanced Criminal Records Disclosure will provide the additional and relevant information required to help us make informed decisions about the suitability of adults who wish to work as volunteers with regular substantial unsupervised access to young people or those at risk. The current figure suggested by Government is £10 for each disclosure made.


  6.  A Home Office Minister has suggested that because there is no legal requirement to check with the CRB, then checking is purely optional. This is naïve, ill-informed or disingenuous. Parents, insurers, and our own integrity require those responsible for child protection to do all they can to keep young people safe from harm—it is neither an honourable nor a realistic option to choose not to check.


  7.  Recruiting volunteers is challenging enough without imposing the active disincentive of a personal joining charge. Independent research (ICF 1999) identifies that a charge of £10 for a disclosure fee would deter 60 per cent of volunteers aged 19-21, and 50 per cent of volunteers aged over 65. For The Scout Association alone, this would mean 42,000 less volunteers each year.

  8.  In areas of social exclusion, a personal direct charge for a person to start volunteering will make even harder the already difficult task of recruitment. Their work is vital to active community development. It is in these communities that the work of voluntary organisations is most needed, yet there is often no tradition or culture of volunteering. It is in these communities that we especially need to recruit even more volunteers, and where we most greatly fear the long-term negative impact of the proposed CRB charges.

  9.  Alternatively, if the costs are to be borne centrally by the voluntary organisation, this both adds an unsustainable and disproportionate burden to charitable fundraising, and results in reduced operational services.

  10.  To add the £10 charge for each of those 70,000 checks, plus all the inevitable associated administration, will require us to raise an additional £750,000 each year. This compares against an annual operating budget of only £9,000,000, and a current three-year project-based grant from the DfEE of £130,000. The consequential impact is a blend of reduced operational services for practical volunteer-based youth-work, and a need for increased charity fundraising to pay for new Government charges for essential core operations.


  11.  The Scottish Parliament has already announced that checks for volunteers in Scotland will be free. There is no charge for checking volunteers in Northern Ireland. It is iniquitous that such a decision has not yet been taken for England and Wales.

  12.  The Scout Association, like many voluntary organisations and sports bodies, is UK-wide, yet the CRB is only for England and Wales, with different systems and checks being introduced for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. Child abusers do not limit themselves to home-country boundaries, and there are real child protection risks if there is not UK-wide cohesion for checking or providing disclosures. There has been no clarity for the charging and process for obtaining UK-wide information.

  13.  A Home Office Minister has repeatedly suggested that the cost of checks can not be sustained from the public purse. We seek openness and clarity on whether it will be the public purse which pays for checks for adults who volunteer as mentors, for the Connexions service, for the Armed Forces Youth Cadets, etc. This is unequal treatment.


  14.  The Scout Association is dedicated to ensuring that children, young people and those at risk are kept safe from harm. We are committed to increasing volunteering across all sectors of the community. The Government as has described volunteering "the essential act of citizenship, and a powerful means of social inclusion".

  15.  Without positive action by Government, fewer volunteers will be available to support, to work with and to care for our nation's children and young people, and with those who are vulnerable and at risk in our communities.

  16.  We seek to increase and develop volunteering, and we seek equal treatment for volunteers in England and Wales as for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  17.  We urge the Home Secretary to use his powers under the Police Act to exempt volunteers from this tax on volunteering.

Derek Twine, Chief Executive

January 2001

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