Ban the Box: How Bristol City Council became the first local authority Ban the Box employer

Bristol City Council has become the first local authority to Ban the Box. The Council will no longer ask applicants to disclose any criminal convinctions until after a conditional job offer has been made, allowing applicants the best possible chance to demonstrate their aptitude for a role, and the council to access a greater range of skills and experiences.

Bristol City Council’s Ban the Box journey began when Marvin Rees, the city’s Mayor, came into power. The Mayor had heard about Ban the Box in the US, where the campaign has been gaining traction since the 1990s, and is now adopted in 27 states. In the UK, the campaign was again brought to his attention by Operation Black Vote, a grassroots organisation seeking to address persistent race inequalities in areas such as education, health and employment.  

Inspired by the principles of the campaign, as soon as he became Mayor Marvin Rees quickly began to set the wheels in motion for Bristol to become to first local authority Ban the Box employer.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “Everyone applying for a job at the council should be given the same encouragement and opportunity irrespective of their background. Bristol is a place where the opportunities to share in the city’s success are not evenly distributed and barriers exist that prevent some from fulfilling their potential. Our aim is to remove one of those barriers and send a message that we’re interested in getting to know the person applying for the job first and begin our conversation there.”

HR Committee
A small team of cabinet members with a collective remit for neighbourhoods, diversity, and HR were tasked with producing a report on Ban the Box to present to the HR Committee in September 2016. The report, which gave a background to the campaign and a risk assessment, was accepted and endorsed unanimously by the committee. It was agreed that the council should progress with the change, consulting with HR officers to determine how to manage regulated roles.

Consulting with the unions
As with any proposed changes to HR procedures, the council consulted with senior managers and trade unions to inform them of move towards Ban the Box and address any concerns about risk. The response was overwhelmingly positive, affirming the council’s decision to Ban the Box.  

Deciding when to ask
The council felt it was important to manage disclosures of criminal convictions on a case-by-case basis, and therefore needed to identify a suitable point in the recruitment process to ask for disclosure. The decision was made to delay disclosure until the conditional job offer, allowing applicants the best possible chance to demonstrate their aptitude for a role, and ensuring applicants are only asked about criminal convictions if they are successful.

Communicating the change
Bristol City Council knows that alongside changes to its recruitment process, Ban the Box requires a change in organisational culture. With this in mind, the council has plans to communicate the change widely, engaging employees through features on the internal intranet, and managers through regular management briefings. 

The council also sees clear reputational benefits to becoming a Ban the Box employer. Councillor Kye Dudd, who heads up the council’s HR committee explains, “We see this as a move which backs up a lot of what we’ve been saying over the last twelve months. As an organisation that is so entwined with how the city operates, we’re determined to be tackling inequality in all its forms, and this is a part of that jigsaw.”

Inspiring others
Councillor Kye Dudd, Cabinet Member and Chair of Bristol City Council’s Human Resources Committee, said: “Almost seventy percent of sentences handed down by the courts are fines but they generate a record that most employers ask applicants to disclose when applying for a job. We’re taking this step because we want to be an employer that encourages and provides opportunities for people from all backgrounds". 

“There’s also a benefit for us in that we’re unblocking a barrier that will ensure we’re making the most of Bristol’s deep talent pool. We’re a city of broad talents and being one of the largest employers in the West of England we want to show others that this approach does not open the organisation to greater risk. Instead it increases an employer’s ability to recruit the right person for the right job whilst still ensuring the right and proper checks are in place.”

Find out more about Ban the Box and read about its benefits to employers.