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six - ‘Making the case’ • The call for a national play strategy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2022

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Summary

By a coincidence of government restructuring, the department with responsibility for the National Lottery under the New Labour government of 1997 was also the one that had contracted CPC to deliver a small policy and research programme (HM Treasury, 2003). The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had inherited such responsibility for children’s play as there was at that time within Whitehall from one of its predecessors, the Department for National Heritage.

There were two main problems with play policy residing at the DCMS. First, this placed it outside of the main locus for child policy – the Department for Education and Employment – which, especially under New labour, was to very explicitly broaden its reach and ambition to drive up improvements in every area of children’s lives touched by public services or the public realm (HM Treasury, 2003). Second, it simply did not have the budget to promise any substantial changes to an area of public life as universal as children’s play. It was an ‘arm’s length’ funder of the arts and sport, and also managed the government’s relationship with the BBC.

Nevertheless, the DCMS is where play policy resided. Fortunately, the department also had two saving graces as far as the play movement was concerned. The first of these was that the lottery distributors were accountable to it, and to some degree took their policy direction from it – especially in the case of NOF (see Chapter Four). The second was Culture Secretary, Chris Smith.

A couple of years before the CPC meeting with NOF, in October 1998, the Secretary of State was invited to speak at London Play’s first annual meeting. As an Islington MP renowned for his support of local action, the minister was a long-term friend of the Islington Play Association and the 12 adventure playgrounds in the Borough. He accepted our invitation and the event was a huge success, sending out a message that the ‘new kid on the block’ in London meant business (and so impressing our funding officer from London Boroughs Grants that he immediately took us off the ‘high-risk’ category!).

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Policy for Play
Responding to Children's Forgotten Right
, pp. 63 - 70
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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