Government under fire for its play plans proposals

The Department of National Heritage has been accused of letting children down by its "failure to show leadership, direction and commitment" in its proposals for the future of children's play.

National Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell has invited organisations to bid for a Pounds 400,000 budget to carry out work in areas of information dissemination, playground safety, playwork education and training, and policy advice.

He told Parliament that the new arrangements would take effect from this October. He is inviting a number of organisations, including local authority associations, the National Playing Fields Association and the Sports Council, to a meeting later this month to discuss the plan.

Ian McNicol, assistant secretary for leisure and tourism at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said he found it "baffling" that the department had taken two years to come to this conclusion.

"Play is a key issue which should be co-ordinated at national level with a commitment from a government department. The DNH had a major opportunity to earn some kudos in the leisure world to show strategic direction. Offering a reduced budget to bidders does not produce a coherent approach to play. " The AMA has been pressing for a single, cross-departmental body to oversee children's play since the Government abolished the National Children's Play and Recreational Unit with its Pounds 700,000 budget in 1993. Some of the unit's work was taken on by the Sports Council, but last September Sports Minister Iain Sproat, announced that play was "not an appropriate function" for the council and asked for comments from interested groups.

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