Watchdogs set to debate councillor crook checks

Wigan Town Hall

Wigan Town Hall

A dilemma over criminal records checks for elected members is to be debated by Wigan Council’s standards committee.

Officers have been asked to assess whether councillors should be the subject of routine background checks, according to a local authority report.

But because there is no legal basis for subjecting town hall elected members to the checks, if chiefs were to enforce the policy, they could find themselves facing sanctions.

These could include losing the right to conduct their own Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for other members of council staff.

The committee will be asked its opinion on whether the authority should ask all elected members if they are willing to undergo the scrutiny voluntarily.

But officers have recommended that they do not carry out routine checks and run the risk of uncovering an undisclosed criminal record that way.

Under the current system, only councillors who are handed specific roles – such as being a member of a safeguarding committee – are DBS-checked.

Councillors are not on the list provided to authorities stating eligibility for regular checks.

Ironically, requesting one for someone not on the list is itself a criminal offence, according to the report.

The council document reads: “Human Resources and Organisational Development services have been asked to assess whether it is possible to routinely undertake DBS checks for elected members.

“The list of roles eligible for DBS checks was limited substantially by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and the DBS regularly check applications and refuse checks that are not eligible.”

The standards committee will meet at the town hall next Tuesday to discuss the proposals.

The report reads: “It would be possible to ask all elected members to undertake a basic DBS check for unspent convictions.

“However, there is no legal obligation so an individual would be within their rights to refuse, and legal services would need to advise the council about how to deal with a refusal.

“The DBS publish a guide to eligibility for checks, which outlines the types of roles which are eligible for a standard or enhanced check, drawn from the relevant legislation.

“If a role is not listed in the legislation, it is a criminal offence to ask for a check.”