Recruitment in the Scottish Public Sector

Is the public sector in Scotland Recruiting With Conviction?

The public sector in Scotland is a diverse set of organisations ranging from very large NHS Trusts through to small agencies which employ only a handful of people.

They often have mature policies and procedures for the recruitment of people with convictions. Some organisations have even gone the extra mile in their community roles, for example, NHS Lothian are sector leaders with their socially responsible recruitment programme.  They implemented a strategy to increase recruitment opportunities for young people and vulnerable groups and enabled this through tailored Recruit With Conviction diversity workshops. By supporting first line managers and recruiters to recognise their unconscious bias towards the most stigmatising stereotypes relating to “offenders”, the workshops were able to unpick obstacles in wider diverse recruitment, providing solutions and empowerment to make good recruitment decisions and select staff from the widest possible pool of talent.

While many other public sector organisations have positive policy and procedures for the recruitment of people with convictions, they are not always effective because of the difference between authorisation and empowerment. Similarly, the monitoring of recruitment practice relating to people with convictions is rare, if it exists at all. However there are some diligent Human Resource professionals who are prepared to argue the case for recruiting with conviction.

While NHS Lothian is developing as a leader in socially responsible recruitment, there is anecdotal evidence about practice in other agencies where individuals are deselected automatically if they disclose convictions. In another case Recruit With Conviction successfully supported an individual to appeal de-selection from a desk based job in a public sector agency because he had one historic conviction relating to possession of one MDMA tablet. This conviction coincided with a time in his life when he was suffering bereavement.

But the public sector is not recruiting?

Reduced budgets and recruitment freezes in tandem with increased outsourcing mean that less public sector jobs are available and competition for these posts tends to be very high. The lack of availability of public sector jobs is accentuated by false assumptions by applicants that they will never be employed by the public sector because they have a criminal record or they consider the prospect of disclosure of convictions too embarrassing.

However a reduction in available opportunities does not diminish the need for good practice. Excellence in human resources is often developed in the public sector. Private sector professionals often ask how the public sector addresses such recruitment difficulties and human resource specialists easily move across sectors, so there is a bleed out effect for developments.

Given that the profile of people with convictions is so closely linked with deprivation profiles, we argue that unless barriers (to recruiting people with convictions) are addressed, then employers are only playing at the fringes of the diversity agenda. There is no place for this elephant in the room any more.

But it only affects a small number of people?

Analysis from the “2013 MoJ /DWP /HMRC data share”(1) evidences close correlation between people with any conviction and low pay, temporary employment and long term unemployment. Given that the research cohort of 4.3 million people represented about half of the population of people with convictions in RUK and 28% of people on job seekers allowance (JSA), we estimate that as many as 50% of people claiming JSA may have at least one criminal conviction. In contrast about one fifth of the working age population has at least one criminal conviction.

It is true that many more employability barriers exist but there are good reasons to start with the most difficult one first.