Edinburgh council staff background checks U-turn

The council HQ at Waverley Court. Pic: File

The council HQ at Waverley Court. Pic: File

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TEN thousand workers will not have to pay for their own criminal background checks – after council chiefs were forced into a humiliating U-turn.

Teachers, carers, nursery assistants and social workers were among the city council employees who were told they would have to fork out £59 to prove they were not criminals or risk losing their jobs.

The Evening News revealed in June that Edinburgh was one of only two local authorities in Scotland to adopt such a harsh policy and pass on the charge for joining the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme to all employees.

The council was warned that teachers’ representatives were prepared to “go to war” over the issue and it today emerged that bosses had backed down in the face of pressure from trade unions, which had threatened to strike if the measure was not reversed.

Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance and budget chief, said: “Although we face a period of stringent cuts and extreme pressures on our budget, it is important that we listen to the views of our staff, trade unions and the wider public.

“In light of the fact that many other local authorities have recently announced they will pay the registration fee for staff and also following further discussion with the trade unions, the Capital Coalition has decided to re-examine the decision taken in 2011 requiring current staff to pay for their own PVG checks. If approved, we will commit £600,000 to cover the costs of ensuring all existing staff are registered with the PVG scheme.”

The PVG scheme was introduced by the Scottish Government in 2011, and is designed to improve the previous system for checking backgrounds of those who work with vulnerable people. The council was told that retrospective checks for existing workers must be completed by October 2015.

Previously, the local authority had indicated that it could not afford to absorb the £590,000 it would have cost to pay for membership fees for existing staff and offered the chance to pay in instalments.

The NHS had agreed to cover the cost for all of its workers, including high-flying consultants, while the council chose to tell even its lowest paid staff they would have to pay from their own pockets.

John Stevenson, president of Unison’s City of Edinburgh branch, had accused the authority of a giving its employees a “slap in the face” by imposing what amounted to a pay cut. While new city council employees will have to pay the fee, existing workers who have already paid will see the cash refunded. The reversal is expected to be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the council’s finance resources committee next week.

daniel.sanderson@edinburghnews.com