MINISTERS have lifted the threat to hundreds of North-East jobs, by announcing a reprieve for the quango that carries out child protection checks.

The offices of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), in Darlington, will survive a controversial slimming-down of the vetting and barring system for those working with youngsters.

The Home Office now expects nearly all of its 250 staff to keep their jobs – with only “very few”

in backroom posts to be lost.

The news is a welcome boost to the region days after the jobless count leapt by 19,000 to 142,000 in the three months to August – the highest since November 1994.

The ISA – based at Morton Palms – will still be merged with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), based in Liverpool, to create the new Disclosure and Barring Service (DSB), next year.

But the DSB will operate from both the existing sites, rather than from just one – as the Home Office suggested, in February.

A single site had been likely to spell bad news for the ISA, which is much smaller than the longerestablished CRB, which has about 700 staff.

The rethink appears to flow from a realisation that there is less duplication in the work done by the the ISA and CRB then previously thought.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Disclosure and Barring Service will exist on the two sites that are currently occupied by the CRB and the ISA.

“Discussions on how staff will transfer to the new agency are ongoing, but we are not expecting there to be job losses, because the roles of the two existing organisations are slightly different.”

The announcement follows a fierce lobbying campaign by MPs, including Darlington’s Jenny Chapman, who argued the ISA jobs were too valuable to be lost.

The Labour MP said: “This is great news, because the ISA is where the finest skills are.

“They are the staff that make the really difficult judgements about who should be barred from working with children and who shouldn’t – and they have a very good success rate.”

The decision to retain both sites – and nearly all of the staff – is likely to prompt criticism that the decision to merge the two bodies was unnecessary.

An “impact assessment”, released by the Home Office, has revealed that the transition costs of the merger will be £13.7m and it involves spending £200m on new IT equipment. However Lynne Featherstone, a Home Office minister, told MPs that the IT needed to be replaced in any case.