Section 67 — Fees

Part of Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 10:15 am on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 10:15 am, 8th March 2007

Section 67 is important. I do not want to understate the importance of fee levels to the stakeholders, particularly those in the voluntary sector. I have a slight sense, however, that we have not been debating what the bill is currently about or, in the light of assurances from ministers during the passage of the bill, about the process. The discussion has to some degree been off to one side of the argument. We are dealing with the bill as it is—I hope that members will take that into account when they vote on the bill later.

The bill is a reform of and follow-up to the existing disclosure arrangements, which we already know about. It is not a new care commission situation; it is a situation in which we know what the existing costs are and can predict the possible ramifications of charging those costs slightly differently. That is something that the consultation will take on board.

We are not adding to the burdens on the voluntary sector, either—quite the opposite. We are, in fact, reducing the burden on it and, all being well, we are reducing the costs on the voluntary sector. That is the context in which we must consider the bill.

There are all sorts of genuine issues with regard to the way in which the voluntary sector is funded, but the question is whether the bill will create significant additional burdens or change how the voluntary sector is affected by charges. In total, it will not but, in practice, the detail is open for consultation. We are, after all, talking about a fee that is currently £20. We talked about various other computations that might be used, such as membership fees, annual fees, or a larger fee for the first disclosure and smaller fees for later ones. All of that is up for grabs. The fee structure must be seen as part of the wider recruitment process, which is what causes the cost to and the burden on the voluntary sector. The fees for disclosures are a small part of that.

I entirely agree with Iain Smith's comments on the contract costs—it is a matter of dealing with the local funding issues that affect individual voluntary sector organisations. Ken Macintosh mentioned the important issue of monitoring costs. If Parliament approves the changes in one of the later amendments, there will be an annual report. Assurances have been given in that regard, which should allow a sensible and reasonable decision when we come to the consultation arrangements about the fee situation, without our having to add in the rather cumbersome arrangements that are proposed by Lord James.