Outgoing Play England director accuses coalition of “betraying a generation of children”.

8 Nov

Media Release, 8 November 2011

The outgoing director of Play England, Adrian Voce OBE, yesterday accused the coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg of betraying a generation of children for abandoning a ten-year strategy to make neighbourhoods, streets and green spaces safer and more suited for children’s healthy outdoor play. He warned that there would be long-term consequences for children’s health and wellbeing.

Speaking after Play England’s annual meeting at a special event to mark his stepping down from the organisation that he established in 2006 under the umbrella of children’s charity NCB, Voce said “the UK government has an obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that children’s right to play is respected and promoted. Yet this government’s policy on children’s play is that it has none.

“In spite of the Deputy Prime Minister’s promise of a task force to investigate new ways to support community play provision, and the statement before the election of the now Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, that ‘it would be a false economy to cut children’s play services’, every penny of government funding for play provision and play policy has been cut.

Voce was damning in his verdict on the coalition’s lack of response to the issue of children’s declining freedom to play out:

“This puts the UK government in breach of an important international treaty, but worse than that, the government is letting down a generation of children, their families and communities who were promised a ten-year plan to reverse the deeply damaging decline in children’s enjoyment of the outdoor world.

“The irony is that much could be done without much government expenditure. The Playbuilder capital programme (which saw 3000 new play areas from 2008-11) would have been completed this year anyway and the aims for the next phase of the Play Strategy were not to spend more money on playgrounds but to change the culture in planning, traffic, parks and policing so that the built environment and open spaces took greater account of children’s need to play and parents’ need to be confident to let them. The Conservatives’ childhood review in 2008 called for exactly such a change but it will not happen without a government lead. As a result, we must expect the trend towards ever-more sedentary indoor lifestyles for children to continue. The government will argue that the austerity measures to bring down the deficit mean sacrifices have to be made but a 100 per cent cut and the shredding of all national policy on play is not just an austerity measure, it is a betrayal, and one which future generations will pay for in the rising cost of obesity, mental health problems and anti-social behaviour”.

Voce congratulated Play England’s members for adopting his longstanding recommendation that it should become an independent charity. “There is huge pressure on charities at this time and going it alone will not be easy, but England’s children need an independent national champion for their right to play,” he said.

Voce, who was this year awarded an OBE for his services to children, announced at the event, in Islington, North London, the launch of his own new campaign to make the case for government action on play which he is taking on to the European stage as a member of the core group of the European Network of Child Friendly Cities.


4 Responses to “Outgoing Play England director accuses coalition of “betraying a generation of children”.”

  1. Fair Play for Children has followed the Strategy’s unhappy progress since the Coalition came into office and it is clear that Children’s Play is a success of ‘localism’, the mantra that local government “knows best”.

    So why did the last government reject that wisdom, which is nothing new at all, it is a direct continuation of the same approach adopted by the Thatcher Government that there should be no national play strategy. The ditching of Labour’s approach of creating such a strategy was almost instantaneous on the entry of Cameron and Clegg into Number 10. Fair Play has direct confirmation that the idea of a national strategy sits ill with this Government, it is a political approach.

    The problem is that it does what Adrian describes – ruins the progress made under the last Government (trashes is not too strong a term), and also it is based on no evidence whatsoever that ‘localism’ has benefited children’s play provision in the past. I find it telling that Play, for which there is always Fine Words and Declarations of Intent, was about the first area of government activity to feel the effects of the cuts – civil servants hardly had time to help Ministers settle into their plush Whitehall offices than there were running out the door to announce swingeing cuts to the national play programme -Play England’s funding mutilated, the offers already made to councils for funding for Play under the strategy under review, numbers of these to be withdrawn.

    Adrian’s right in every single thing he is saying. Our FoI requests to all English local councils reveals the stark truth about the priority given to Play by local government, and Fair Play knows this is not because of a future emphasis (‘localism’) but a return to the ‘good old days’ of council indifference in many areas to these needs of our kids. The FoI shows, with 150 or so councils in, that compared to last year, councils overall expect to spend 93% of the previous year’s total on all functions, adult leisure 91%.

    When it comes to summer playschemes (if they run them at all), it’s 85%, year-round council schemes 71%, playground capital 68% (only maintenance escapes at 99%). If you’re in youth provision – down to 76%. But, hey Aunt Sally, that voluntary play activity you’re running/want to/used to run – grant-aid down to 64%, they value the Big Society and Children’s Play so much.

    What of national expenditure we hear the strangled moan? Well the following is the reply to our FoI to the Department for Education:

    I am writing in response to your request for information, which was received on 17 October 2011, on funding for children’s play. You specifically asked for the departmental funding information below. Figures are based on local team records and a small degree of variation error due to accruals may be expected. You also asked for information on where play funding has carried through commitments from the previous Government over the period 2010-12, and this is indicated below as appropriate.

    Total Department for Education funding

    2009-10: £116.4m
    2010-11: £60.3m
    All funding was used to meet commitments made by the previous Government under its Play Strategy.

    The Department has no plans to centrally fund play in 2011-12: the Government is decentralising decisions and giving local authorities more flexibility to decide their own spending priorities. No funding was committed by the previous Government for the period, which left office before completion of the last Spending Review.

    Grants and other funding: 2009-10 & 2010-11

    The previous Government’s Children’s Plan announced an investment of £225m for the period 2008-11 for the development and improvement of children and young people’s opportunities for play. An additional £10m was allocated in April 2008, taking the total investment to £235m. Of this total, £200m was designated for the Capital budget and £35m to the Revenue budget. Both capital and revenue funding was allocated to every top-tier local authority, each of which was designated either Play Pathfinder or Playbuilder status.

    Capital and revenue funding to local authorities for the period 2009-11 continued commitments made by the previous Government. Reductions in budgets occurred in-year in 2010-11 as part of government-wide action to help tackle the national budget deficit. The detail of in-year changes is in publicly available letters from the Secretary of State for Education, which can be found on the Department for Education website.

    Capital: http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a0065475/revised-play-capital-allocations-for-local-authorities.

    Revenue: http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/strategy/laupdates/a0071118/dfes-contribution-to-the-62-billion-of-cross-government-savings.

    Some additional funding was provided to a number of local authorities which informed the Department of funding commitments entered into prior to the budget reductions notified in these letters.

    Initial 2010-11 allocations of grant can be found in the Children’s Services Local Authority Circular (LAC Ref: 2502100003) which is available in the National Archives (see: webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/*/http://www.dcsf.gov.uk).

    The remaining revenue funding for the period in question was:

    Children’s Workforce Development Council: CWDC were allocated funding for 2009-11 to deliver the programme of work to enable 4,000 individuals to achieve an NVQ level 3 qualification in playwork and 600 to achieve a level 6 qualification in leadership and management.

    Play England: Play England had two contracts with the Department in the period 2009-11. As part of the review of Play budgets in 2010-11, the two contracts were renegotiated into a single, merged contract with a reduced budget to reflect the reduced monitoring role of the organisation.

    SQW / Ipsos MORI was under contract for a national evaluation of the Department’s Play programme. There was an early end to the evaluation in 2010-11, in line with the current policy of a light-touch approach to local authority monitoring and to support budget savings.

    Play Volunteering Pilot Schemes in two local authorities (Bristol and Rotherham) were allocated funding to develop local models of volunteering to support play.

    Voluntary Sector Adventure Playgrounds were allocated funding to improve play opportunities in existing 3rd sector adventure playgrounds through the refurbishment of their facilities in 2009-10.

    Other revenue funding was used to publish guidance to support the play programme (e.g. Managing Risk in Play Provision) and deliver events (e.g. a CABE facilitated event on play and the Olympics).

    Figures for each strand of funding are contained in the table below.

    2009-10 2010-11 Total
    £ £ £
    Local authority capital grant 100,000,018 54,191,310 154,191,328
    Local authority revenue grant 10,320,730 2,811,764 13,132,494
    CWDC 2,000,000 2,000,000 4,000,000
    Play England 2,002,430 1,054,064 3,056,494
    SQW / Ipsos Mori 668,376 61,191 729,567
    Volunteering Pilots 149,167 157,022 306,189
    Vol sector adventure playgrounds 1,084,255 – 1,084,255
    Other revenue (publs, events etc) 149,839 662 150,501

    TOTAL 116,374,815 60,276,013 176,650,828

    What is clear to me and Fair Play is that we all have to work as one – Tim Loughton has been berating the youth sector for its “personalities”. Well I may have one of those but one of our recent acts was to contact Adrian’s successor, Cath Prisk, and to meet with her and the headish-honcho at Working on Wheels, Geoff Riddick (National Playbus then if we must) to look at issues. Those about to Play salute your Mr Cameron, but expect a tough fight as this is a gauntlet thrown down to those of us who have been working for years to so painfully get the crumbs that we have.

    Well, those are swept off the table (crumbs they are, total play expenditure by councils this year projected as 10% of adult leisure budgets when they represent far more than that as a proportion of the population, and it’s set to be much worse next year).

    The Big Society may be Big Speak but when it comes down to organising those local activities for kids which have been a feature of so many UK communities over decades, that is “little society” and, Mr Cameron, you are trashing this and, Mr Clegg, not listening at all. As with Vetting and Barring, those who know are being ignored, sacrificed to political dogma and ill-informed decision-making.

    Adrian, I do feel sorry for you, you trusted our politicos, worked hard to wrest from them such crumbs as we got (and a good achievement – as a start, as you will have known only so well). How do we explain this deafness, which has characterised political decision-making about Play bar for so brief a period.

    (You know, we used to spend a lot of time saying amongst ourselves “If only we could show them the benefits, it’s our fault, we haven’t made the case” – well, we made it, and kept making it, got a national strategy, and now the ball is thrown back in our court … and the ball is punctured and the court is to be ripped up. If I hear anyone expound that line ever again, I will personally roll up a copy of the now-defunct National Play Strategy and insert it in a place where even localism is too broad a concept.)

    Trevor Huddleston, leading a Fair Play delegation to see the Junior Minister for Sport in the 1980s (Moynihan?) re … er, cuts, was told by the said young promotee that he understood the Bishop’s radical views – the bell-book-and-candle reminder of his Archbishop status was followed by this remark which, for me, still says it all: “The problem with you politicians is that you are politically ignorant”. Afterwards, Father Trevorn treated all us (then) young sparks to a meal at the-then new and fashionable Garfunkels in Piccadilly.


  2. adrianvoce 15 November 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Thanks for your very full contribution Jan, which is so substantial I will blog a response rather than leave one here!


  3. plexity 12 December 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    If there is ever a Government formed by the ‘People’s Play Party’ (Children’s Play Partay, wotev), Jan should be its chancellor.

    He then wouldn’t get anything done.

    Because the Cabinet would spend all its time discussing ‘what is play?’ and how to promote its benefits to the electorate: how about Five-4-Playaday – 5 games using 5 vegetables for 5 minutes 5 days a year?


    • Mr Speaker

      Anyone who wants to be a leader should be arrested. (first law passed by PPP)

      Chancellor’s main budget. £3 a week national pocket money for each child, £1 to child £2 to bank account for every 3 years of age. Some are arguing in Cabinet that this should be dependent on school attendance.

      Mandatory play provision by councils, considering play councils with kids voting and spending.

      National Fun Bus service established.

      We’re funding the Children’s Play Council to do the same job as the Arts and Sports Councils, similar annual funding levels, to be grant-making and policy advisory.

      Cabinet level Minister for Play – (sound of running footsteps to compete for job)

      The National Play Street Initiative will roll out over the next ten years. Paid for by parking charges on all cars that currently take up play space.

      Children’s Rights Act to implement in domestic law the UNCRC.

      First child to be appointed to Cabinet.

      Commons Select Committee on Play to be 50% under 18.

      Delighted to announce that Lord Daniel Cosgrove to be first Child Peer. I had nothing to do with this. He is just marvellous but Baroness Sophia speaks her mind even at 2point5 years.

      And I have to make it clear that the PM and I have NOT formed any ‘pact’ where I will succeed him. I reckon controlling the purse strings is the game, the other one’s for mugs.

      Oh, there will be a Party, or lots of them, in the play streets.

      I commend this budget and this budgie to the House.

      (Cries of ‘Hear Hear’, ‘Where Where’, ‘There There’ omnes etc fade)


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