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eight - ‘Getting serious’ • The national play review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2022

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Summary

Chris Smith may or may not have expected the sector that he had cajoled into speaking with one voice to be quite so demanding with it. A crosscutting national government play strategy, the main recommendation of CPC’s Making the case for play (Cole- Hamilton and Gill, 2002), was certainly not on the reform agenda of the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), and Smith’s own Culture Department (DCMS) was hardly concerned with children at all.

In the event, it was no longer his problem. By the time the CPC report was published, Smith had left the government, reshuffled out of office by a victorious Tony Blair immediately following the 2001 general election. But whatever the (soon to be ex-) Secretary of State may have imagined landing on his desk in the way of policy asks from the play movement, he proved uncommonly true to his word.

Smith had in various ways commended CPC, and the sector in general, for our robust response to his challenges. As though anticipating his imminent departure from the government and wanting to leave us something substantial to work with, completely out of the blue, on the very eve of the general election of June 2001, he issued a Labour Party news release pledging a further £200 million from the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) for children’s play. The promised land of serious national investment for play seemed suddenly within reach.

Chris Smith’s departing gift to the nation’s children went unnoticed and unreported in a mainstream media understandably more interested in the wider implications of a second landslide election for Tony Blair and New Labour. More worryingly, no one at the DCMS, let alone NOF, appeared to have any knowledge of the pledge either. On hearing about the departure of our champion from the cabinet, anxious that the promise of funding (which only existed, as far as we were aware, in the form of a faxed Labour Party press release) would be deniable –by NOF, the government or both – and also wanting to publicly record our gratitude to the outgoing Secretary of State, we hastily penned a letter to The Guardian (Voce, 2001) warmly welcoming ‘a legacy to the secondterm government that New Labour can be proud of ‘. Meanwhile, we had no option but to wait patiently for a sign that the cabinet changes were not going to immediately nullify this sudden and unexpected breakthrough.

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Policy for Play
Responding to Children's Forgotten Right
, pp. 83 - 90
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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