Sunday, 11 January 2015

Why does the Cornish Guardian think there should be one rule for elected councillors and another for its own staff?

The Cornish Guardian carried a story this week saying that Cornwall Council does not know if any of its elected members might pose a risk to children because very few have had a background check.  

Actually this claim is untrue. In 2009, after the first set of Cornwall Council elections, all the elected members were the subject of CRB checks. Any councillor first elected in 2009 - more than half the current number - will have had either a CRB or DBS check from the council.

The policy was changed in time for the 2013 elections in line with national guidance to reflect a better understanding about the role of a councillor. We are elected to make policy decisions, not to act as front line staff. Any organisation that works with children or vulnerable adults - schools, sports clubs and so on - should have proper safeguarding processes in place all the time. They should not be relying on someone’s position in another organisation as a badge of trustworthiness and they should also recognise that a clean DBS check does not mean that someone could never be a risk in the future.

The Cornish Guardian thinks the policy should be different to the national guidance. Their articles appear to imply that the council should still be carrying out DBS checks (the new version of CRB checks) on councillors. The paper is entitled to its opinion. But surely it should be working to the same rules that it seeks to impose on others? During my time as a councillor to date, I think I have visited schools on five different occasions where I had any interaction with pupils. On each of these occasions I was always accompanied by a teacher or other staff member as any other visitor would be. That’s how child protection should work. Being a councillor does not confer any special status.

A group of people who regularly come into contact with children and vulnerable adults as part of their work are local newspaper journalists and photographers. They are endlessly covering school plays, exam results, sports days, reception class photos and so on. Every week the pages of the Cornish Guardian are full of such stories and photos. Often they do it over the phone and by email but they also go into schools too.

Do Cornish Guardian reporters and photographers go through a DBS or CRB check? My understanding is that they do not. I’ve tried to check with the paper’s editor whether this policy has changed but I have not received an answer. In fact I sent her a whole raft of questions about the Cornish Guardian's children protection policy and procedures but I haven't received an answer to any of them. If no checks are carried out then the paper cannot be in a position to say whether or not any of its staff might pose a risk to children.

This post is about the Cornish Guardian's hypocrisy. It’s specifically not about accusing or insinuating that any person connected with the Cornish Guardian, or any other media outlet, has done anything illegal. But they cannot attack others for failing to get staff checked if they do not do so themselves, particularly when they have far more contact with children than councillors do. They are a public-facing organisation seeking to represent the public and they must meet the standards they attempt to impose on others.

I also asked the editor about any safeguarding policy that the paper might have for staff who come into contact with children or vulnerable adults. If there is no policy of CRB or DBS checks then I would certainly expect this to exist. Again, she has failed to respond.

Finally, I asked if any complaints of inappropriate conduct had ever been made about any of the paper’s staff. I make no suggestion that any have, but I would expect the paper to have procedures in place to deal with any and to be able to reassure the public that this is the case. Again, no response has been received.

So come on Cornish Guardian. If you think that there should be a certain rule for councillors, why do you think your reporters and photographers should not be subject to the same rules? After all - you come into contact and communicate with children far more often than we do.

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