Companies that run outdoor activities for the under-18s are to be licensed and inspected by a Cardiff-based agency. Tourism Quality Services already administers a voluntary accreditation scheme in Wales (TESS, last week).
TQS was approved by the Health and Safety Commission as the licensing body for centres and providers throughout the United Kingdom under legislation that comes into force on April 16.
Scottish providers had been hoping the company would subcontract to local agencies but John Walsh-Heron, TQS's managing director, has confirmed the company intends to set up an office in either Glasgow or Edinburgh. It is meeting Scottish interests next month at the Scottish Sports Council.
Mr Walsh-Heron told The TES Scotland he hopes to appoint one senior inspector and possibly up to six full-time inspectors north of the border. Others may be employed depending on demand from providers and centres.
"We need people who know their patch but are still independent," he said. Inspectors will look at safety management systems and locations of activities before making recommendations on whether a licence should be granted. That decision will be taken by the senior inspector.
Mr Walsh-Heron said he had "no idea" how many commercial providers would apply for a licence but estimates put the number at around 1,000. They have until August to make an application. TQS will then have until September 1997 to complete inspections of all those who apply.
Initial costs are being underwritten by the Government, although the process is intended to be self-financing. Charges for licences will be met by providers. Small operators may pay a few hundred pounds for a three-year licence, against Pounds 1,400 for a large, multi-activity seasonal operator. The latter may be inspected every year.
Mr Walsh-Heron, who will come north in the next few months to explain developments to regional seminars, believed the process would help to ensure higher safety standards. "Good operators are already doing this but it gives them credibility and a public seal of approval. For people who are not doing this properly, it will help them put in place proper systems. It will impose a discipline on them which they will find helpful," he said.
The legislation follows the outcry over the deaths of four teenagers in the Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy three years ago. The managing director of the company involved was subsequently jailed.