Section 67 — Fees

Part of Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:00 am on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 10:00 am, 8th March 2007

Amendment 36 seeks to relieve the understandable concerns of the voluntary sector about the costs of the new scheme. Those concerns have been ably channelled through the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

The SCVO has asked for amendment 36, which would secure in statute the current free checks for volunteers. As a new development, it would also waive fees for vetting paid staff in the voluntary sector, which would be particularly welcome during the initial phasing-in period of retrospective checking because the set-up cost is a particular worry. On the basis that the phasing-in period is likely to be three years, the SCVO has estimated that the total set-up cost will be £24 million, £3 million of which will be to pay fees for vetting the 120,000 paid staff who work in the voluntary sector. Although the Executive disputes the total of £24 million, I understand that the forecast of £3 million for fees is perfectly reasonable. Given that £3 million is a lot of money for voluntary organisations to find over a short period and that, furthermore, it is part of a considerably larger cost, amendment 36 asks that it be eliminated.

Amendment 36 also seeks to have fees for on-going checks waived once new retrospective checking has been completed. I concede that fewer on-going checks may be conducted than is the case at present, but the cost of a check has increased by 47 per cent in the year since the introduction of the outgoing Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003 regime. The indications are that the introduction of the new system will, at a stroke, increase the cost of a full check by 30 per cent. On the basis that such increases may continue, I believe that there is a strong case for the voluntary sector to be considered for exemption.

I applaud the minister's commitment to continuing to pay the costs of checking volunteers who work in the sector, but I feel that the distinction between volunteers and the paid staff who work alongside them is somewhat artificial in the context of checks. In practice, any fee that is levied on a paid member of staff will still be borne by the voluntary group. It is a mistake to assume that if a voluntary organisation can afford paid help, it is somehow able to bear the same financial burden as a public sector body. Given the importance of the issue, and to safeguard against the actions of a future, less reasonable, minister, I ask that consideration be given to including the necessary provision in the bill.

Amendment 37 would introduce use of the affirmative resolution procedure for the adjustment of fees. That is of great importance to voluntary groups: it would ensure that any future changes to the fee structure or level would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which would make ministers more accountable for, and would ensure greater scrutiny of, any such changes than would the use of the negative procedure, for which the bill currently provides. There must be provision for stronger scrutiny of future decisions, for which ministers should be firmly accountable. That is the case because the Executive has preferred to defer such decisions to future ministers, rather than to set out many of the details in the bill. The Executive has also frequently allowed its plans to speed ahead of the process of consulting those who will be affected by the bill. Amendment 37 represents a necessary safeguard.

I welcome amendment 14, in the minister's name, which will signal that fee inflation should be avoided. However, Executive amendments 14 and 19 do not negate the merits of amendments 36 and 37.

I move amendment 36.