Caving is one of four activities currently covered by AALA

Caving is one of four activities currently covered by AALA

Plans to abolish the body that oversees safety for children’s outdoor activities in England have been ‘paused’.

The Adventure Activities Licensing Authority was due to be wound up and replaced by a voluntary scheme in response to ex-Tory minister Lord Young’s red-tape-busting report Common Sense, Common Safety.

But the Welsh and Scottish Governments have both rejected plans for ditching the authority, throwing a spanner in the works of English plans to deregulate the industry.

AALA, which is overseen by the Health and Safety Executive, governs four types of activities and was set up following the deaths of four young people in the Lyme Bay kayaking disaster in 1993.

Schools and voluntary organisations are already exempt from its provisions.

But Scotland’s and Wales’s decision to stick with AALA regulation meant England would be out of step with the other two nations, leading to obvious difficulties for activity providers who operate across borders.

Northern Ireland has said it will continue with a non-statutory scheme.

The question has split the outdoor activities industry, with some in favour of keeping the AALA scheme and others pushing for adoption of a voluntary regime such as Adventuremark or the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge.

Scotland-based mountain instructor Alan Halewood revealed he had received a letter from the HSE revealing the executive had put on ice its abolition plans.

The letter said: “We have decided to pause the proposal to abolish the AALA while we consider further how we develop a regulatory regime that reflects the level of risk of taking part in adventure activities while ensuring that users are reassured about a provider’s safety management arrangements.

“The legislation that gives licensing its legal base is devolved to Scotland and Wales and we understand that the devolved administrations have decided to retain licensing in its current form. We will work with them as we develop future arrangements.

“We now plan to consult further on this issue later this year; you will of course have the opportunity to influence future arrangements.

“As a provider of adventure activities, you should continue on the basis of it being ‘business-as-usual’ and ensure you have a valid licence to deliver the activities within scope of the current arrangements.”

The letter followed the announcement in March that Wales would retain the AALA scheme and last week’s decision by the Holyrood administration to keep the authority.

Sport Minister Shona Robison said: “We need a robust and proportionate safety system for adventure activities in Scotland which meets the needs of Scottish providers and users.

Activities such as gorge jumping are not covered by AALA. Photo: Steve Kazakos CC-BY-ND-3.0

Activities such as gorge jumping are not covered by AALA. Photo: Steve Kazakos CC-BY-ND-3.0

“It is clear that that there is a strong view, particularly from those in education and local government, of the need for a statutory scheme to provide the reassurance that parents require and more broadly to users, their families and the wider public.

“I have now written to the UK Government asking for the statutory framework for AALA to be retained for Scotland.”

John Armstrong of the Scottish Adventure Activity Forum welcomed the announcement, saying “We welcome the minister’s announcement which will give continuing reassurance to parents and those with a responsibility for the safety of young people.”

The view is shared by Nigel Marshall, chair of the Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education who said: “We feel that Scottish Government has recognised the need to retain a robust, credible and proportionate method of reassuring local authorities, youth organisations and most importantly parents that providers of outdoor activities are safe.

“SAPOE looks forward to providing continuing support to Scottish Government in the further development of a licensing scheme that suits the needs of the Scottish people.”

However, Mr Armstrong said he hoped disciplines other than the four present AALA-covered activities – trekking, caving, outdoor climbing and watersports – would also now be considered. “We believe further work is essential to ensure the development of a more comprehensive scheme which covers a broader range of adventurous activities and makes accreditation available to any outdoor activity provider who may wish to take it up,” he said.