Council proposes to axe play services

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All of the play services in a large London borough could be axed in council spending cuts.

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Camden council is currently reviewing all its children, schools and families services, and considering closing all council-run play centres, holiday provision and breakfast and after-school clubs in schools, to make savings of between £80m and £100m over the next three years.

A report on Camden's financial strategy from 2011 to 2014 includes a proposal to review play provision and focus on the 'most vulnerable' because 'a universal service is no longer affordable and not a statutory requirement. The council will withdraw from direct provision and instead commission a smaller number of play services from the voluntary sector.'

If the changes go ahead, it will mean the closure of 17 after-school clubs, five holiday play schemes and three breakfast clubs in schools, which are delivered by the council's play service.

Camden is also planning to review its current contracts with voluntary and community sector providers, as well as proposing to commission a smaller number of play services from the voluntary sector to focus on vulnerable families and support children in need and those who have disabilities.

Currently there are five after-school clubs and 20 holiday play schemes delivered by the voluntary sector and funded by play service grants.

A council spokesperson said, 'These are difficult times and Camden, like other councils, is faced with making some very tough decisions.

'While the changes mean that not everyone will continue to receive the same service, we are moving towards a more targeted service with strong links to family support services.

'There are also a range of voluntary services and we will explore how they can best meet the needs of families on a range of incomes.'

A decision about the proposed changes is expected to be made by the council's cabinet this year and will be followed by a period of consultation.

Parents have started to react to the proposals. Writing about the closure of local play centres on parenting website Mumsnet, 'Alicimo' said, 'If Camden council close the play centres I do not know how I, and others like me, will be able to sustain work. Camden proposes to only offer a service to disabled children and children referred from social services. This would be back to the days when disabled children were segregated. Children with emotional issues will also be kept together when currently they are part of the mixed group. Camden councillors should resign rather than let this happen.'

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