DBS checks

MQT on 2017-01-18
Session date: 
January 18, 2017
Question By: 
Andrew Dismore
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


There are considerable delays and a large backlog within the Met. in clearing requests for DBS checks; this is having a knock on effect on people with job offers and on volunteers. What are you doing to get on top of this problem?


Answer for DBS checks

Answer for DBS checks

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are vital to keeping some of the most vulnerable Londoners safe and they must be carried out thoroughly, but it is not acceptable for some Londoners to be prevented from working because of delays in the process.


As you know, this has been a problem for a long time that I have inherited and I am working to get on top of it since my election.  I discussed it with the Commissioner [of Police for the Metropolis] last week and my Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, has also met with the Minister to discuss improvements.  The issue has been taken extremely seriously and the MPS continues to manage this as a critical incident through a Gold Group, including a monthly meeting attended by colleagues from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), the DBS and the Home Office.  Action has been taken including increased staffing, making use of police officers on recuperative duty and improved training and information technology (IT) systems.  It has also improved collaboration with the DBS and other police forces and has put in a more risk-based and targeted approach to application checks while ensuring no reduction in standards.  TfL has also provided a dozen staff to assist specifically with DBS checks of taxi and private hire drivers. 


I am pleased to report that the MPS is now making good progress towards the elimination of the DBS backlog, although I am aware this is of little consolation to those who have already experienced such delays.  The average turnaround time for DBS checks is now down to 22 days, well below the 60-day target.  The overall work in progress has reduced from just under 80,000 when I became the Mayor to 37,105 as of 8 January [2017] and so it is clear that we have made significant progress.  Because of the nature of the process, there will always be a substantial number of cases in progress, probably around 30,000 cases, and the MPS expects to meet this target in the coming weeks.


Andrew Dismore AM:  Thank you for that answer and the progress report.  You said that the target was a 60-day turnaround, but would you not think that it is rather a long time for people to have to wait on average?  What do you think a reasonable turnaround time should be?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  That is the time agreed in the DBS and the MPS, but I agree.  When you have a job and you are waiting for the DBS check, it can be extremely frustrating.  The target is 60 days.  We are averaging 22 but you, Assembly Member Dismore, will appreciate that we are given the resources by the DBS to do the job and so we are going as fast as we can with the resources we have. 


Andrew Dismore AM:  Again, that is encouraging, but there has been this rapid deployment of a lot of extra people into it, as you say, from TfL, secondment, more recruitment and redeployment from other parts of the MPS.  Can and will this level of staffing be maintained permanently to ensure dealing with the backlog is maintained and does not develop again?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  You are right to raise it.  One of the reasons why Sophie [Linden] has met with the Minister is that this is a national issue.  When you hear of an extreme case when somebody has waited 320-odd days for a DBS check, no employer within reason is going to wait that long and so it is a big issue.  That is why the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime has met with the Minister.  We will carry on meeting regularly with the DBS and it is an issue I have raised with the Commissioner.  We will keep it under review, but you are right that what we do not want to do is to take our foot off the gas and have the target date increase.


Andrew Dismore AM:  Perhaps I can give you an example of one of my constituents, who is a volunteer with Camden Victim Support.  They submitted his enhanced DBS check application on 11 July [2016], and after four months it still had not been processed.  It was processed, only when I raised it on his behalf, in a couple of days.


As you say, it is not a new problem.  It is one you have inherited.  The Evening Standard highlighted this time last year three trainee nurses who could not start their course even though they applied the previous August.  In March [2016] The Standard reported the case of a disabled support worker who had been waiting since October [2015].  In December this year [2016] The Standard reported the case of a school where 10% of the new staff whose applications had been submitted in June [2016] could not start at the beginning of the term.  It is a serious problem.


Really, the question is: how can we expect well-meaning people to volunteer and how can we expect applicants and employers to cope with such obstacles to getting people into work when they are kept hanging about like this?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Can I thank you for raising the case of your constituent?  You have illustrated the misery caused to him and those he wants to help as a consequence of the delay.  That is why I have raised it with the Commissioner.  The Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime has raised it with the Minister.  The MPS is now working more closely with the DBS than ever before to help manage the anticipated number of future DBS requests.  You will appreciate the reason why it is important to do the checks and that is why the law is what it is. 


Just to reassure your constituent through you, Assembly Member Dismore, there are now more dedicated staff working on checks, better training and mentoring for new recruits, improved IT systems and a more risk-based and targeted approach to processing applications.  I know that that is no consolation to people who have been waiting a long time, but we are doing our best to make sure we reduce the delays and get this right.


Andrew Dismore AM:  Thank you.


2017/0160 - Encouraging Biodiversity in New Housing Developments

Leonie Cooper AM


Will the Mayor ask the Deputy Mayor for Housing to create a dedicated supplementary planning guidance for biodiversity in housing, to help meet his Manifesto commitment to ensure London remains overwhelmingly green?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you for raising this with me, Assembly Member Cooper.  As Chair of the Environment Committee, I know, this is of particular concern to you. 


As I outlined in A City for all Londoners, which I published in October, I have taken a wide-ranging, holistic approach to ensuring that development activity enhanced the environment and actively contributes to meeting one of my key environmental objectives: making the city more green.  Encouraging biodiversity across all developments, not just housing, is an issue my officers are working on for the new London Plan, and you have a huge role to play there.  For example, they are looking at whether we can make a green space factor concept work in London.  This is where developers are required, Chairman, to meet a green points total for their scheme, but they can choose how to do this by selecting from a menu of measures, such as tree and green planting, green roofs and appropriate landscaping.  This will both enhance biodiversity and foster design creativity.  This will be in the new London Plan.


My view is that it would be more effective to get this in place in the new plan rather than to prepare further supplementary planning guidance (SPG) based on the existing plan.  SPG by definition can only be used to implement existing policy; it cannot introduce new policy.  If my new London Plan needs additional guidance to make sure its biodiversity policies are followed through in detail, then I will ask my Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills to update the existing Green Infrastructure & Open Environments SPG. 


Finally, I should add that £750,000 has been allocated to 26 projects across the capital to plant 40,000 trees by the end of March this year, which I know will make you very happy.  This year’s funding is a start.  We will build on this, working with partners, to increase planting in future years using the funds I have identified in my draft budget, as well as exploring opportunities to work with businesses to green London.


Leonie Cooper AM:  It is very encouraging news to hear that the officers are looking into the possibility of using the green space factor and incorporating that into the new London Plan, as that is one of the things that my rapporteurship report looks into.  It is just that at the moment, given that the last Biodiversity Strategy was updated in 2002, perhaps having an SPG now rather than waiting until the new plan comes in might be useful.  Perhaps you might also want to comment on whether or not your predecessor could have done something a bit beyond pocket parks to update the Strategy, which is now so ancient.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I do not disagree with anything you have said, save to say that the green space factor is potentially really exciting.  Do not forget the draft plan will be published, hopefully, later on this year and that will give a direction of travel as to where they are going so that local authorities and developers know what the expectations are going forward.  The draft plan being published is a big deal.  Adoption cannot take place - you are right - for a number of years, but the law means that even if we publish an SPG, it cannot go further than the existing plan.  It can enhance it and - you are right - we have to be much more ambitious than the previous Mayor was.  That is why for an exciting new London Plan, if we need to, we can have additional SPG to enhance that.  I am very excited about biodiversity and I am hoping you will be pleased as well, but you have a huge role to play in framing the new London Plan.  One of the things that Jules [Pipe] is very keen on as my Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills is getting the process right in relation to making sure we speak to the right people and we can get the green space factor up and running.


Leonie Cooper AM:  One of the sets of people that as part of my investigation I have been spending quite a lot of time talking to is developers, and one of the issues that has come out for them has been that it is easier and cheaper to incorporate biodiversity - perhaps through having the green space factor - into new housing developments and other developments if they try to consider these things at a very early stage in the development.  There has been an issue with the hollowing out of planning teams across local authorities in many boroughs.


Would you be prepared to encourage local authorities to request minimum baseline surveys from developers at a very early stage to identify very early on in the planning process not only what is on site that needs to be protected but also the kinds of opportunities that might be there for that implementation, through the green space factor or otherwise?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Absolutely.  The good news is that the conversations we have had with London authorities and councils across London, for all parties, is they are very keen to have green spaces.  The discussions that take place before a plan is put in are often very useful, but you are right.  Councils are facing massive cuts and have had to shrink some of their departments and so the opportunities for those conversations are not there as much as they were before.  A developer, not unreasonably, wants to be ambitious in relation to what he or she can achieve via development and does not think through what the community will look like afterwards, and that is why we are encouraging Homes for Londoners, the experts, to work with councils across London to get this right.  That is why the draft London Plan being published will hopefully send a direction of travel approach which means, even if the pre‑application conversations cannot take place, developers and officers know what the expectation is on small developments as well as big ones.


Leonie Cooper AM:  That is really interesting and really encouraging to hear that those discussions are going forward.  We are going to be talking to the person who came up with the concept of the national park city, the whole initiative, at tomorrow’s Environment Committee, but I just wondered if you are able to give us any update today on how that is being taken forward internally.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Yes.  As you know, we are ambitious in the long term to make London the first national park city.  I have been looking at some numbers in relation to where we are going forward.  That is why we need the new London Plan up and running as soon as possible.  At the moment, 47% of London is green.  We want to get to 50% and that means having a London Plan that makes it easier, thinking about how we use the roofs, how we use planning to get more biodiversity in sites.  It will not be something we can do in the short term, but that is why we need a London Plan which is adopted in 2019, which means in the subsequent years we will get there, hopefully.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Thank you, Mr Mayor.