But the promise of fast-tracked Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks in return for joining the£30 card scheme was dismissed as “unacceptable” by Britain’s biggest public sector union.
Home secretary Jacqui Smith said in a speech to think tank Demos that staff such as social workers would be given priority entrance to the scheme, along with other key groups, from as early as 2009.
Later this year foreign nationals will be the first people targeted for biometric ID cards, and next year, airport staff will be at the vanguard of British citizens eligible to sign up.
Ms Smith said that ahead of the general public being allowed to sign up for ID cards, “a tailored service for those who work in positions of trust” would be created, offering faster CRB checks in return.
“The time taken to perform a criminal records check could be cut from four weeks to as little as four days,” she said.
Heather Wakefield, Unison’s head of local government, condemned the move and said that workers should not have to sign up for the controversial scheme to benefit from fast and effective background checks.
“Using public sector workers to reach a so called ‘critical mass’, without any discussion with the union, is unacceptable,” she said.
“It is also unfair to use the promise of fast-tracking police checks to burden low-paid public sector workers with the additional cost of an ID card.
“The bottom line is there should be a fast, dependable checking system to allow carers, teachers and nurses to get on with their jobs.”
Kim Bromley-Derry, vice-president elect of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said faster checks were of more interest than new ways for staff to identify themselves.
“Anything that speeds up the CRB process is a good thing,” he said. “But all of our staff will have [an existing format of] ID cards anyway.”