Adventurous Activity Licensing

It is reasonable to reflect back 2 years to the announcement in Lord Young’s report ‘Common sense common safety’, that Licensing was going to be withdrawn and ask the question ‘so what’s changed?’  On the face of it, very little.  Providers of certain adventurous activities to young people are still required by law to hold a license, which they can obtain from the Adventurous Activity Licensing Authority (AALA) following an inspection.

Further to a statement by the Health & Safety Executive in July 2012, I’d like to take the opportunity to outline what I think is likely to happen in the near future and to reflect on what has actually changed in the past two years.

The statement from the HSE in July 2012 was pretty clear.

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

The HSE went on to say that they will be consulting further on the two issues; how to reassure users of providers’ safety standards and inconsistencies arising from some activities requiring a license and some not.  Encouragingly there was also a commitment to work with the Scottish and Welsh Governments in developing future arrangements, as the legislation behind licensing is a devolved matter.

So what are the immediate known and likely implications of the HSE statement ?  It is clear that legislation requiring a provider to hold a license will not be substantially changed or withdrawn in the next 12 months.  Given the commitment to a consultation, which is likely to take place in 2013 it is reasonable to assume that by the time a bill has passed through parliament and received royal assent we will be well into 2014, possibly 2015 and in danger of becoming entangled in a change of government.  On a positive note it seems the sector is more likely to have a consistent regime across the UK, though it is difficult to predict what shape that will take.  It could be new legislation or a sector specified approach with the backing of the HSE.

So is there any point in looking for alternatives to Licensing now?  The answer has to be yes.  Representatives of the adventure activity sector have been working with the HSE over the past 18 months seeking to influence the UK Government’s approach to developing a post AALA regime.  Those representatives made it clear that the vast majority of providers and users wished to retain some form of 3rd party accreditation of safe practice and recommended to the HSE that any new regime must be consistent across all home nations in the UK.  Prior to July’s HSE statement a UK Government solution looked unlikely to contain these features.  As a result earlier this year a temporary group was established (the UK Accreditation Transition Group / UKATG) to keep working on a sector based solution.

UKATG has broadened its representative base since the work with HSE and is recommending the establishment of a register of adventurous activity providers who hold a recognised form of 3rd party accreditation.  Such a register would be designed to be open to all (not just providers of activities to young people), recognise a wide range of adventurous activities and provide a single point of reference for users.  The register would need to accommodate the differing 3rd party accreditations that may exist in different home nations. SkillsActive, the sector skills council, have secured funding from the UK Commission for Employment & Skills to help set up a register, the aim of which would be to increase participation and maintain safety in adventurous activities.  An annual registration fee will probably apply.

UKATG is recommending that AAIAC (Adventures Activities Industry Advisory Committee) evolves to become an appropriate organisation to run the register.  It is recommended that such an evolution would involve the formation of a Congress of significant bodies in the adventurous activity community to provide strategic guidance and accountability for AAIAC.  It would also require the formation of a new Accreditation Managing Forum to oversee the register and the associated standards of provision.

So the last two years have not been a standstill for Health & Safety in adventurous activities.  It is my personal opinion, given the potential need for all young people’s providers to hold a License for the next 2 – 3 years, that sector based solutions like a register will need to incorporate the Licensing inspection regime if they are to be commercially viable.

Note: the UKATG is continuing to meet.  If you wish to contribute to its work please contact me at andy.robinson@outdoor-learning.org.