Thousands of public servants are being forced to pay £59 out of their own pockets to prove they are not criminals.
Staff and unions have reacted furiously to Edinburgh City Council’s decision to pass the fee for joining the new Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme to employees, describing it as a “tax on teachers”.
It is understood that 10,000 workers, including school staff and those who work with vulnerable groups such as the elderly, will have to pay the charge or lose their job.
The authority is the only one in the Lothians to force all staff to cover the cost themselves, with West Lothian, East Lothian and Midlothian councils all agreeing to pay for existing employees.
John Stevenson, Unison branch officer, said it was “completely unfair” and said the council should absorb the cost.
“If the workers don’t pay it, they can’t work,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. It’s not fair.
“The unions back the idea of a registration scheme but it seems ridiculous that these workers will have to pay for the privilege of working for the council.
“Many people will find this very difficult to pay. Other councils are absorbing the cost and so are the NHS. It’s not big money. It would show a bit of faith in their workforce, when they have gone three years without a proper pay rise.”
NHS Lothian will pay for all of its staff members to have the checks, meaning consultants on bumper salaries will not have to pay while lowly teaching assistants, who earn less than £15,000 a year, will be hit with the charge.
The council has said it will allow the cost to be spread over 12 or 24 months – with payments taken directly out of people’s pay packets. But outraged workers have expressed disbelief at the stance.
Neil McLean, a history teacher at Castlebrae Community High and Edinburgh local association secretary for the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: “It’s an extra tax on Edinburgh teachers and it’s unacceptable. Teaching staff have already gone through checks and the council always paid for them before. It’s unfair and should not be negotiable.”
Although the PVG scheme was introduced in 2011, previously only new employees or those moving jobs had to take the new checks. However, retrospective checking for existing employees is now being brought in.
West Lothian Council pays for all employees’ membership, while Midlothian and East Lothian councils cover the cost for retrospective checks.
One teacher at a north Edinburgh school said: “Everyone supports the proper vetting of employees who work with children and vulnerable groups, but why should teachers have to pay this money when others in the public sector, such as in the NHS, don’t? It’s being made quite clear to us that if we don’t pay for this then we’ll lose our employment. I know many of my colleagues aren’t happy.”
The council will pay £450,000 administration costs for the checks, but it is understood city officials were unwilling to find the £590,000 it would have cost to pay for retrospective checking.
A spokesman said: “This is a one-off membership fee for the individual and is portable if they should change jobs. Staff will be able to pay the £59 fee out of their salary interest-free over a period of 12 or 24 months. This could be as little as £2.46 a month.”
NEW REGIME A RESPONSE TO SOHAM MURDERS
THE PVG scheme, launched by the Scottish Government, is intended to be an improvement on previous background check arrangements.
It was brought in as a response to the Soham murders carried out by Ian Huntley, who was employed as a school caretaker despite being subject to a string of allegations of sexual offences in the past.
Members only have to join once, rather than apply for a new certificate whenever they change jobs. The £59 fee is set nationally. It went live in 2011, when new employees working with vulnerable groups had to join.
Existing employees will have to become members by 2015. Across Scotland, up to 800,000 people have to join.