THOUSANDS of children could be deprived of their holidays because the national minimum wage may force many activity holiday providers to raise prices or even to close.
About 200,000 children go on activity holidays each year. Many come from deprived inner-city areas and have their places paid for by their local authority. For some, it is their first experience of the countryside.
The courses - which include swimming, abseiling, motor sports and computing - are generally run by young people keen to gain experience of working with children. It is a particularly popular summer job for those hoping to become teachers.
Employees at present receive board and lodging plus an allowance of around Pounds 65 per week - a total package of about Pounds 140.
However, when the minimum wage comes into force in April, centres will have to pay staff at least Pounds 144 per week. And, unless the draft regulations are amended, employers will be allowed to deduct only a maximum of Pounds 19. 95 for board and lodging. The rest will have to be found by employers.
Holiday providers are hoping to put pressure on the Government at a meeting at the House of Commons on December 3.
Martin Hudson, chairman of the British Activity Holidays Association, warned that unless centre operators were allowed to deduct more for accommodation and meals "the national minimum wage could lead, at worst, to centre closures or, at best, to much higher prices which will particularly deprive the less well-off".
A Government spokesman said: "We will carefully consider all recommendations and will publish the final regulations in the near future."
Concerns over the safety of activity holidays reached a new peak after the Lyme Bay tragedy. In 1994, four teenagers died on what should have been a routine canoeing trip in Dorset. However, since then, new licensing and inspection regimes have been introduced.