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Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Sunday, 13 December 2009

Schools Secretary Ed Balls on vetting school volunteers

On Sunday 13 December Andrew Marr interviewed Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

ANDREW MARR:

Schools Secretary Ed Balls

And so we go to one of this morning's big stories. After the Soham murders, the government promised to vet everybody who regularly worked, even for a short time, with children. But the plan turned out to seem pretty draconian, lassoing in writers who visited schools and parents doing school runs. Now the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, announced a review, which formally reports tomorrow, and he joins us now. Good morning.

ED BALLS:

Good morning, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Good morning, Mr Balls. This review, we read today that you're going to basically accept its proposals, and I'm a little unclear about how many people will no longer feel that they have to be vetted - basically checked whether they're paedophiles or murderers or whatever - because, as you know, lots of novelists and poets just going into school occasionally, lots of parents doing school runs, and many more were going to be caught by this?

ED BALLS:

Well, look, as you said the origins of this go back to legislation after the tragic murders of Holly and Jessica in Soham, and the government introduced a legislation a few years back to make sure that a caretaker, where there were concerns, couldn't get into that kind of trusted relationship with children in the same way again - to try to do everything we can to keep children safe. But it's important to be clear at no time, at any point, has it ever been the case that parents doing school runs or arrangements between parents have ever been part of these arrangements. That's never been the case at all. But I looked at the details over this summer. I had some concerns. The author case is one example. I got my expert to look at these issues, Sir Roger Singleton, and he's come back with some changes, which I think will make sure that we can deliver what we intended here - is commonsense will work in a proper way and it will mean that 2 million people who would have been in the scheme will no longer be in the scheme. But it's not parents because parents were never there.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) At one point, there was talk of 11 million people being covered by this vetting.

ED BALLS:

And that will come down by 2 million.

ANDREW MARR:

So still 9 million people will be covered by vetting?

ED BALLS:

Yes. But the important thing to say is if a parent is making an arrangement with another parent to do the school run or go to a sports game or whatever, or to go to volunteer for a day in school to help with the school play - they're not affected at all. But if you imagine, if your child is going to nursery aged 3 and the nursery arranges for a volunteer to come in for two days a week, then I think you would expect the nursery to have checked out that person, that there wasn't a past record. And if it turned out they hadn't been checked and then they were taking photos of your child and passing them on the Internet, you would be appalled. And it's those kinds of situations which we're trying to be clear about. It's where the responsibility is not with the parent, but with the organisation, which could be the school, but it could be the cub/scout troop.

ANDREW MARR:

But it's the overreaction problem here because already an awful lot of adults have got the message: whatever you do, don't work with children, don't work with the scouts, don't work with the swimming club, it's not worth the hassle. And …

ED BALLS:

But …

ANDREW MARR:

Sorry, can I just follow on from that? I mean there have been lots of examples in the papers, as you know, of notices going up in schools saying nobody is allowed to come onto this site unless they've had a criminal records bureau investigation and they're carrying you know photo identification, which seems …

ED BALLS:

Ludicrous. Ludicrous is the right word.

ANDREW MARR:

… ludicrous and overreaction.

ED BALLS:

But, Andrew, those are ludicrous overreactions. There are lots of myths here. We've got to get this cleared up. A head teacher who is saying that you should not come into school without a check, that you shouldn't help with a school play - that is a ludicrous overreaction in exactly the same way, if you ask me, a head teacher who says you can't play conkers in the playground. There's no rule which says that. Heads have got to use their judgement. But at the same time, if children are being with adults where the parent is trusting the institution to get things sorted out … And, look …

ANDREW MARR:

Sorry, just on this because you know you've said it was ludicrous and all the kind of schools organisations, heads organisations have said that it was strangling school life. My final question on this …

ED BALLS:

It's not started yet, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Where, so where did this come from? Was this just over zealous reaction in your department? Was it from you? Was it from officials? Who got it wrong in the first place?

ED BALLS:

Well, listen, what we've done is we've reduced the test down from monthly contact to weekly contact, and I think that's the right thing to do. We've also said that a foreign exchange trip or an author going from school to school won't be affected. But at the same time, it's really important that if somebody is getting into a trusted relationship with children over a few days a month or over a regular period, we know from our own experiences and the fact is, Andrew, in the real world I …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Sorry, just coming back to what I said though, I mean you've accepted in effect that this was an overreaction. My question is …

ED BALLS:

(over) Well I haven't said that.

ANDREW MARR:

… who overreacted?

ED BALLS:

I haven't said it was an overreaction. What I've said is …

ANDREW MARR:

If you're changing, it clearly was.

ED BALLS:

Well I've not done a u-turn, and I think what we're doing here is making sure that we keep children safe. I've looked at the details. We're making some changes and that's a good thing to do, but the fundamentals of the scheme are still in place and the fundamentals of the scheme say to parents if you're making your own arrangements, that's obviously for you; but if the school or the cub scout troop … If there's a volunteer who is going to the Saturday night, looking after your children, you would expect the cub scout troop to check that out. At the same time, there are lots of myths around. And to give you one example today …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Sorry, just before the myths, have you/Whitehall generally learned from this experience?

ED BALLS:

Well, listen, I have been making really difficult and sometimes very distressing decisions weekly for the last two and a half years in which I've seen individuals who have gone in, built trusted relationships with children, and then abused those relationships. And it's not an overreaction to say we must make more sure those children are safe. What we shouldn't do is do that in a way which is unnecessarily burdensome or doesn't quite get to the point. But at the same time, there are lots and lots of myths. There was a case today in the Sunday Times of a Conservative candidate in Gloucester who says that he takes his children to cricket and he is going to defy the law and go to jail by ringing all the parents to say that he's going to take the children to cricket, like now, and defy the law. But it's never been the case that parents …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, okay.

ED BALLS:

… making arrangements were ever going to be affected by this. And there are lots and lots of myths. We've got to get them cleared up. I will do …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You've talked about … Sorry, you've talked …

ED BALLS:

… this in a commonsense, proper, practical way, but let's not deny the reality there are people who do some terrible things to children and it is our responsibility to make sure kids are safe.

ANDREW MARR:

You mentioned a Conservative candidate just now, so let's turn to politics and the PRB and the reaction to that. As Schools Secretary, you were the big winner from this. You've got real terms increases running on from 2011. Do you accept that the price for that is going to be draconian and savage cuts in almost everybody else's budgets?

ED BALLS:

Well, look, this is not about personalities. The winners were the NHS and police officers, teachers and teaching assistants and parents around the country who will get the one-to-one tuition, which is guaranteed. That's only possible because Alistair Darling in his PBR set out some really difficult decisions on national insurance, on the 1% cap on pay, and also on efficiency right across all departments, including my own.

ANDREW MARR:

So you know the numbers. You know in addition to all of that, there have to be drastic cuts across the rest of Whitehall. Everybody knows that. And my question to you is why are schools are so important that transport, housing, the military and all of those other areas are going to take a huge amount of pain to pay for your extra budgets?

ED BALLS:

Well I think Alistair wanted to make it clear that schools, the NHS and police were key priorities for us, and that in making difficult decisions - as we're all doing … I'm making a very difficult decision today to take away the bonuses from young people doing Educational Maintenance Allowances, so that I can get 80,000 more young people to get those college places next September. I'm making difficult decisions too. We're also taking action on tax.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I mean you mention those difficult decisions. The IFS, for instance, talks about a 16% real terms cut over 3 years in non-protected budgets. That is enormous.

ED BALLS:

Well, look, it's too early to know what the numbers are going to be. All departments have got budgets until 2011. What happens is what happens after that. That's going to depend upon what happens to growth and unemployment. And Alistair's set out 20 billion, 15 to 20 billion of efficiency savings. But, look, this is about the government setting out a credible plan, and I think we have. It's also about setting out clear choices for the future. Do you act on growth? Do you raise national insurance, as we are doing? Do you prioritise the front line? Or do you take an alternative approach …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Do you go for VA… Do you go for a higher VAT, which it is rumoured the Treasury wanted to do?

ED BALLS:

Well, it's really interesting, the VAT point. I've been involved in Treasury issues for many years. The Treasury regularly has proposed looking at VAT. It was something which was looked at back in 2001/2 when we raised the national insurance rise for the health service. We did national insurance because we thought that was a fairer way to make sure we could protect public services, and the same decision was made last week by Alistair. But there is an alter…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And it might well be the wrong decision this time because millions and millions of low paid people are going to get quite a hit …

ED BALLS:

Well …

ANDREW MARR:

… next spring.

ED BALLS:

Well this goes to the heart of the issue. We've just heard from Boris on your programme, he's not supporting the bank bonuses rise. We've heard from George Osborne that they don't support the national insurance tax rise, and they want to have an inheritance tax cut for millionaires. That means they've got to make up the gap somehow, especially as they're saying they want to cut the deficit faster. (Marr tries to interject) So to finish this point - either David Cameron and George Osborne, to make up that big gap, have got to have big cuts in public spending, which go well beyond …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) As you're going to have to do too.

ED BALLS:

No, no, which go well beyond because they're not doing the national insurance …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, well …

ED BALLS:

Or, Andrew, or they will raise VAT. And we know in 79, after 87 and after 92, Conservative governments raised VAT. And the question …

ANDREW MARR:

The Chancellor wanted to raise VAT, did he not?

ED BALLS:

Well and the ques… Well and the question …

ANDREW MARR:

Did he not?

ED BALLS:

And the question …

ANDREW MARR:

Did he not?

ED BALLS:

No. The decision Alistair made, which is the right decision, was to raise national insurance. But the question that you will need to ask and your colleagues today …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Under pressure from you, under pressure from you.

ED BALLS:

… from George Osborne and from David Cameron is are they planning a VAT rise after the election? Will they commit today not to raise VAT after the election? And that is the choice.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) The time will come to ask them questions, but you as a former Treasury guy had one heck of an argument with Alistair Darling in the run up to this.

ED BALLS:

No, that's not really true, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

How … Well …

ED BALLS:

I'm happy to talk about …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well let me put it to you that …

ED BALLS:

(over) … I'll talk over the details with you.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Let me put it to you that you know late on Thursday, you were still arguing with him about your schools budget.

ED BALLS:

Well, look, of course it's the case …

ANDREW MARR:

Late on Tuesday, sorry - the day before.

ED BALLS:

Of course it's … Look, Alistair had gone to bed, so I wasn't arguing with him. We were getting the final details sorted out. But he had said to me a few days before, "My decision is a 0.7% real increase for schools", and I said, "Great." The decisions he made on tax and on the deficit, I fully supported and do now. There were no rows about those things. Of course there's arguments about the detail, but the fundamental issue …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And on the back of everything you've said …

ED BALLS:

(continuing) … but the fundamental issue, Andrew, is Alistair is going for growth now. He won't cut the deficit next year.

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah.

ED BALLS:

He is saying raise national insurance, don't cut inheritance tax. He's saying invest in the front line, don't have public spending cuts now.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay …

ED BALLS:

That will be the political election choice. And Boris has made it very clear …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Sounds very political.

ED BALLS:

… the black hole is even bigger than we thought.

ANDREW MARR:

It sounds very political. Snap election? Sounds like you're campaigning already.

ED BALLS:

No. Ray Collins has said today that we're ready whenever the Prime Minister wants, but I've heard nobody talking about going for snap or early elections.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright.

ED BALLS:

But whenever it comes …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) March election? March election?

ED BALLS:

Look, whenever it comes, we will be ready. And, as Boris says, he didn't rule out coming back as a Conservative MP. I would think if David Cameron loses, Boris will be back like a shot to make sure he's contesting the next Conservative leadership election after Labour wins the General Election.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, okay. Ed Balls, thank you very much indeed for that.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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