Children are suffering because of our society's skewed values about "safety" - which used to mean making sure that risks were minimised, but now means ensuring that officials do not risk being sued or having to do extra work, that public organisations are not liable for expense, and that ordinary people should have their normal activities curtailed at the whim of know-all jobsworths in positions of authority.
Research by the Manifesto Club, a group that campaigns against red tape, examined how Britain's 780 model-aircraft clubs were coping with new child protection laws - they picked model aircraft clubs as an example, and there's little doubt that almost any other field of leisure activity would show similar results.
Many model clubs are now closing their doors to young people. Some of the most popular clubs in Britain routinely tell all under-18s that they must be accompanied by a parent if they want to attend. They are also running out of volunteers prepared to coach younger people because of the mountain of checks and paper-work that are now required.
Josie Appleton, author of the report, said that most of the clubs would not now allow children to attend without a parent in tow, and that this had led to a collapse in attendance among under-18s. "Clubs reported that the number of under-18s has plummeted from about ten or twenty to one or two, or even none, following their decision to require parents to come too," Ms Appleton said.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which comes into force next year, requires hobby clubs to conduct Criminal Records Bureau checks on all coaches and volunteers, or face a fine of £5,000. They must also appoint a child welfare officer, who must be trained for the role. Coaches must complete forms on why they wish to work with children and provide two written references from "persons of responsibility" that must then be checked.
John Bridgett, a member of the Retford Model Flying Club in Nottinghamshire, said that almost all the under-18s had left his club. "Due to the ridiculous situation now, not only must parents remain with their children but they too must join as a member of our flying club," he said. "The net result is that junior membership has declined from fifteen down to one over a two-year period." Stuart McFarlane, the chairman of a flying club in Shropshire, said that no one was prepared to allow criminal-record checks, "hardly surprising when we discovered that the CRB had made a few mistakes and wrongly labelled people". He also said that no one was prepared to become a child welfare officer.
The same syndrome is affecting other areas of activity too. Cameron McNeish, editor of The Great Outdoors magazine, said that it was virtually impossible to find volunteers to take young people mountaineering. "How do young people get experience of winter routes to-day? When I was a kid you joined a club and there was always someone who was willing to take young people out. Clubs don't do that any more as they are scared of the litigation and paedophilia angle."
Gordon Brown has pledged a huge expansion of clubs for young people by 2010, largely staffed by adult volunteers, but clearly the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
Meanwhile in the village of Lymm, Cheshire, every year for the past 15 years money has been raised for good causes by racing plastic ducks across a pond. This year's event has been cancelled, however, because of a Health and Safety rules.
More than 1,000 people turned up to watch last year, but now Warrington Council have demanded that roads be closed for 'safety reasons', leaving the organisers of the event with a bill for £3000 which they can't afford to pay - because it is, by coincidence, almost exactly the amount the event raised last year for charity.
Round Table chairman James Phipps summed it up pretty well: "We are deeply disappointed that this happens after 15 trouble free years. It all comes down to a wider paranioa about local authorities getting sued."
Elsewhere a headmaster in Stockport has insisted that pupils wear clip-on ties. He claims that the traditional method of tying a tie could be dangerous if the tie is pulled during a playground prank. And council workers have been banned from clearing up litter from a stretch of the A14 because the road is "too perilous". The A14 runs past Bury St.Edmunds where a Majorettes team of baton twirling children was recently banned from a leisure centre amid fears they might injure members of the public while practising.
Our correspondent S***** P******, who sent us some of these items, comments "Well, I don't know about you GOS, but I think that some of these people use Health and Safety to avoid having to work, and the others use it to prevent people having fun!"
He's not wrong, either. But on the other hand if all this grief and annoyance results in one single child being protected from … oh, hell, that's such b*ll*cks I can't even be bothered to finish the sentence …
What we find most sinister is that it doesn't seem to matter what anyone says. It's now years since Lembit Opik made an impassioned plea in parliament about this very subject, pointing out that our youth were being turned into a nation of namby-pambies because they were never allowed or encouraged to take risks by indulging in adventurous behaviour. The law lords when dismissing a claim for damages against Congleton Borough Council by a youth who ignored warning notices, broke into a closed area and hurt himself diving into a lake which was described as completely safe, spoke eloquently and at length about the need for people to take responsibility for their own actions and not try to blame others for their own stupidity.
But do officials take any notice?
Similarly, does anyone listen when hundreds of thousands of motorists speak out against speed cameras? Do the government pay any heed to the prediction that over 15 million people are so deeply opposed to ID cards that they will break the law and risk imprisonment? And do they take any notice when millions of people tell them - on their own petition website - that their plans for Road Pricing are flawed and unwelcome?
Do they b*gg*ry. They're in charge, they say, and we can all do as we're bl**dy-well told.
As Bertolt Brecht said, "When government doesn't agree with the people, it's time to change the people"!
The GOS says: Makes you think, doesn't it? These are the young people we send out in boats to do our dirty work in the Gulf, and we wonder why they can't hack it.
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