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January 16, 2012

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Scotland consults on adventure-activities safety model

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on how to regulate adventure activities, following the UK Government’s plan to replace the statutory Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) with a new voluntary code of practice.

The AALA was established by the Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) Act 1995 to licence caving, climbing, trekking and watersports operators after four young people died while canoeing at Lyme Bay in Dorset. Currently, the AALA is run by the HSE, which contracts Tourism Quality Services Ltd to administer the licensing scheme across England, Scotland and Wales on its behalf.

In June last year, following a recommendation by Lord Young of Graffham, the HSE launched its own consultation on whether the AALA should be replaced with a voluntary code, the results of which have yet to be revealed. Should the HSE confirm that the AALA should be scrapped, it will require the 1995 Act to be repealed. However, as its subject matter is devolved and reserved, Scottish parliamentary consent is required if the change being considered by the UK Government is to apply north of the border.

The consultation in Scotland, which runs until the end of March, seeks views on the following three proposals:

  • adopting the model proposed by the UK Government – replacing the current licensing regime with a voluntary code of practice would remove the costs and bureaucracy associated with licensing, but end the current inspection regime;
  • introducing a non-statutory, voluntary accreditation scheme – this would still include an element of inspection and accreditation, but public bodies would only be able to promote and encourage compliance, rather than enforce;
  • introducing a statutory scheme – this would see the continuation of an inspection and statutory scheme for Scotland, although an appropriate body would need to be identified to carry out its functions.

Launching the consultation earlier this month, Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport Shona Robison, said: “We want to increase levels of physical activity in Scotland by providing opportunities for everyone to safely take part in the wealth of active pursuits and attractions which are available the length and breadth of the country. We also want to do all we can to boost our key adventure tourism sector.

“However, we recognise that many people – including parents – believe an appropriate safety system should continue to provide a level of reassurance and confidence for users, their families and the wider public.”

She concluded: “The UK Government’s proposed abolition of the AALA has implications for Scotland. Any safety system developed for adventure activities in Scotland would need to meet the needs of Scottish providers and users while being robust and proportionate.”

Chair of the Scottish Adventure Activity Forum (SAAF) Iain Peter commented: “SAAF welcomes the Scottish Government’s consultation. In Scotland, we enjoy unrivalled access to the natural environment and we believe that young people should have the opportunity to take part in adventurous outdoor activities safely.

“Clearly, we need to strike a balance between risk and bureaucracy and it is only right that we take this opportunity to consult with providers of activities, parents, participants, teachers and other interested parties to determine the best way forward for Scotland.”

In its response to the earlier HSE consultation, IOSH stated its desire for the current licensing regime to be retained, adding: “[A]n unintended consequence of the proposals could be that unscrupulous, or irresponsible organisations [are] able to undercut their better managed competitors – replacing good with bad.”

The ‘Consultation on developing a safety system for adventure activities in Scotland’ can be found at: www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/01/04112146/0

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