Bernard Spiegal
72 Albert Palace Mansions
Lurline Gardens
SW11 4DQ

10 November 2006


Thank you for your letter of 27 October about the Children’s Play programme.

The Children’s Play initiative is a key strategic intervention which will increase the recognition of play at a national level. Setting up Play England-an England wide support infrastructure for Children’s Play is an unprecedented development and will make a major long term difference to how play is recognised, supported and delivered in future. The three strands of this initiative complement each other to deliver something quite special, but it’s a challenge that the play sector needs to respond to.

As you know, one of the key aim of the Children’s Play programme is to promote the long-term strategic and sustainable provision for play as a free public service to children. Crucial to achieving this is the ability of local authorities to develop an appropriate local play strategy and to embed it within local plans and services.

The funding for play provision has been allocated to all local authority areas in England, not to local authorities. Therefore, partnership working is central to this programme. Whilst I appreciate your concern that it might sometimes be challenging for local authorities to engage with a number of stakeholders, we see this funding as a good opportunity to bring together local partners and organisations in planning for play.

Our programme is based on the recommendations of ‘Getting Serious About Play’, a national play review carried out under the chairmanship of Frank Dobson, MP. This review was published in January 2004. Following on from this, the Big Lottery Fund announced the programme in March 2005; this was two and half years before the final closing date for applications. The review recommended that there should be improved planning and partnership working at a local level and that local authorities should demonstrate their commitment by investing in developing good play strategies.

In November 2005, we wrote to all local authorities advising them of their allocations, the timing of the programme and requirement to produce a play strategy to access their area’s allocation. The programme was launched in March 2006 along with the guidance document Planning for Play. This was 18 months before the final application deadline of September 2007. I believe that we have given local authorities ample time to develop play strategies, and any change to the timescale, as you propose, will lessen the focus and impact that this programme is designed to achieve.

We appreciate that some of the local authorities have been slow to respond and as a result there has been a shift in their application timescale. However, according to our recent survey, the majority of authorities will be applying to the third application window in March 2007 and not the final one, which confirms our view that the timelines under this programme are reasonable and appropriate.

Play England’s regional support teams have already met directly with more than 80 per cent of local authorities. They too report a high level of activity and commitment to the programme. We remain confident that Play England’s strategic enabling programme will be able to provide as full a service as possible to support local authorities in developing quality play strategies within the timescales set for the programme.

I recognise that there have been some concerns about our capital requirements. In response to this, we have produced revised capital guidance for the programme. This is a simpler version and was sent to all local authorities on 25 October. We have also sent additional ‘Questions & Answers’ to all local authorities to help with some of the recent queries on the programme.
I hope that this clarification meets your concerns about the programme and hope that we can all work together to make a lasting difference to children’s play provision in England.