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21 February 2017, 15:22
The national governing body for youth football in Scotland has turned down an offer of help to clear a "significant'' backlog of coaches and officials who have not completed comprehensive background checks.
The Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA) told MSPs at Holyrood two weeks ago that 949 of its recruits have not yet been vetted through the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Disclosure Scotland, the body which runs the scheme, told members of the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee it had offered to provide help to clear the backlog.
Gerard Hart, the director of protection services and policy, said that had been rejected - despite the backlog still being a "significant number''.
Early years minister Mark McDonald has now written to SYFA chief executive David Little "urging him strongly to take up the support offer''.
Mr McDonald and sports minister Aileen Campbell are planning a meeting with police, children's charities and various sporting governing bodies to discuss how the PVG scheme - which carries out background checks on individuals to ensure their suitability to work with children - operates.
"I've written this morning to Mr Little asking him to meet with myself and Ms Campbell ahead of the roundtable we're hosting, but also urging him strongly to take up the support offer that is there to help his organisation clear their backlog,'' Mr McDonald said.
Checks by Disclosure Scotland in September 2016 revealed a "small backlog'' in the SYFA of individuals who had not been checked, Mr Hart said.
He told the committee: "At that time we offered on an informal basis some support in helping to clear that backlog.
"As time moved on, it became clear that the backlog was larger than the small number reported in September.
"I wrote to the chief executive of the SYFA on a number of occasions throughout the period December to January to offer very practical assistance with clearing that backlog, which by then was in the high hundreds rather than the small number that was previously intimated to us.
"While they initially accepted that offer of support, it eventually transpired they did not wish or require that offer of additional support to clear the backlog.
"It wasn't accepted by the SYFA and that remains the position to this point.''
SNP MSP Claire Haughey said: "I'm quite astounded by the information you are telling us.
"Essentially the SYFA have been afforded or offered assistance to clear this backlog and have not taken up that offer.''.
Labour's Colin Smyth added: "I'm seriously concerned about the fact that we do appear to have been told about a massive failure of process here.''
Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "I'm astonished, absolutely astonished, at the revelation the SYFA have turned down this offer of help to get through the backlog.''
On its website, the SYFA describes itself as the "national governing body of youth football in Scotland'', adding it is responsible for everyday, recreational grassroots clubs for players up to the age of 21 from "Orkney to Edinburgh from Peterhead to Lockerbie''.
Mr Little has previously told MSPs the outstanding PVG checks were a result of the high level of churn of its 15,000 or so volunteers who help run its 39 leagues and coach 60,000 registered player.
He told Press Association Scotland the help the organisation had been offered by Disclosure Scotland ``was not the assistance that we required''.
Mr Little said: "The assistance we required was to process forms within the office ... unless they could have seconded people to assist in the office, that was the type of assistance we required.''