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Red tape fears over vetting

Council leaders gave a guarded welcome to the Scottish Office proposal for a national registration system for adults working with young children but warned that volunteers could be put off by an "over-prescriptive" system.

The education forum of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities agreed to seek a meeting with the Scottish Office before any scheme is finalised. Councillors were concerned about who is to pay for tighter supervision of up to 100,000 adults who help to run an estimated 11,000 clubs and youth organisations.

"It is imperative we get this system right otherwise we could put an end to the volunteer effort in Scotland," Elizabeth Maginnis, Cosla's education spokesperson, said.

But Val MacIver, Highland's education chairman, said: "If volunteers walk away, that is their loss and we shouldn't worry about it. Anybody genuinely interested would not object to vetting."

Alec Thomson, Cosla's education convener, said the key demand was for a mandatory national system properly funded by central government.

The recommendations for a vetting process, made by Lord Cullen following the Dunblane tragedy, suggest that the body to which all groups would have to be accredited should be self financing by imposing charges with any shortfall met by Government funding.

The Government has accepted this but community education interests remain sceptical that an agency could survive by charging voluntary groups. Youth organisations also want more detail on whether 15-year-old and 16-year-old youth leaders and occasional parent helpers would be vetted.

It was the difficulty of defining clubs in a way that would not exclude informal or occasional activities, down to private tuition, that led Lord Cullen to rule out compulsory registration.

The Church of Scotland meanwhile became the latest organisation to set out advice on "inappropriate physical or verbal contact" with young people. The Kirk's list of do's and don'ts is modelled on guidance issued to HMIs earlier this year. This week's General Assembly stopped short of endorsing a ban on hugging after a heated debate, but Sunday school teachers and other church workers will be warned never to be left alone with children.

The procedures, which will appear in a laminated postcard size format, are an attempt to give reassurance to parents that church is a safe place, the Rev David Hamilton, assistant director of the Church's board of parish education, said. They are also intended to protect workers against false allegations.

"This is not firefighting," Mr Hamilton said. "There is not a crisis but there could be a problem of irresponsibility if we are seen to be doing nothing."

There will now be a training programme for ministers who will then lead training sessions with their congregations by September.

The Church hopes to use the national vetting scheme to run checks on criminal records or misconduct related to children.

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