Safety concerns have been raised over volunteers working in Barnet’s libraries who have not undergone criminal record checks.

Council officers revealed they are unable to carry out DBS checks – which reveal unspent convictions and conditional cautions – on some library volunteers.

They stressed volunteers who have not undergone the checks are only able to work under the supervision of members of staff who have been DBS checked.

But the revelation, which came during a meeting of the community leadership and libraries committee on Thursday (March 5), led some councillors to raise safety concerns.

Staffing levels in Barnet’s libraries have nearly halved following a major overhaul of the service that began in 2016, according to an independent evaluation of the service by Activist Group.

Volunteers have been brought in to support library staff – a trend seen across the country as local authorities made savings in response to Government funding cuts

Under questioning from Cllr Nagus Narenthira (Labour, Colindale), libraries manager Hannah Richens said the council did not carry out DBS checks on volunteers who work within the library service during staffed hours.

She told the meeting: “There are quite strict rules on who you can DBS check and who you shouldn’t. We do DBS check volunteers who work within self-service hours.”

Ms Richens said the council is not allowed to carry out the checks on the volunteers “because of the nature of the work they do”.

She said: “They are not engaged in restricted activity and they are supervised by a member of staff who is DBS checked. That’s what we are advised to do based on who you can DBS check and who you can’t.”

But Cllr Sara Conway (Labour, Burnt Oak) said she found the lack of DBS checks “really concerning”.

She raised concerns over staffing levels, pointing out that people supervising volunteers also had a range of other jobs to do in the libraries.

Cllr Conway said: “I don’t think you can get rid of professional staff, and I would urge a conversation with professional staff about how best to manage this.

“I don’t think volunteers for essential council services can replace professional staff. They can work together, sure – but they can’t totally replace what we get in a professional librarian.”

Cllr Jennifer Grocock (Conservative, Finchley Church End) also raised concerns over the lack of DBS checks on people “who are going to be coming into contact with vulnerable people and children”.

Ms Richens said she would “revisit that with human resources colleagues” but added there were “legal restrictions on who we can DBS check”.

She added that all volunteers working in the borough’s four ‘partnership libraries’ – which are managed by community organisations – had undergone DBS checks.

The libraries evaluation carried out by Activist Group says the reduction in staffed hours has “gone too far, particularly given the low number of volunteers”.

It adds that recruiting volunteers “needs to be a key initiative over the coming year”.

The report makes several other recommendations aimed at improving the service, including reducing the lower age limit for self-service opening, subject to parents’ permission, and reviewing the policy of keeping toilets closed during self-service opening hours.

Councillors unanimously agreed to consider the findings and recommendations of the report.