Wednesday, 31 August 2011

FOLSAP: Lollard St Adventure Playground

Dear Councillor Robbins

I hope you received my emails dated 13th and 16th August, as I have had no acknowledgement.

To summarize:

On June 16th FOLSAP organised a meeting of parents and children to which you explained Lambeth Council's proposals for outsourcing the management of Adventure Playgrounds in Lambeth. You explained that the voluntary and Council-run APs would be brought together under the auspices of some form of Trust. In response to our questions you assured us that if FOLSAP, for example, were to put forward a viable business plan, there was no reason why the Council should not pass the management of this AP to such a local group. If that were to happen you said that the amount of money allocated would be only £45,000.00 for the year, due to the Government cuts.

You told us that the APs would have to reduce their hours to one weekday session and Saturday mornings from September 1st. Parents and children at that meeting emphasised to you how important it was for this AP in Lollard Street to be open during the weekdays after school as parents relied on it as a safe place for their children to be if they were unable to get home from work; afterschool childcare being scarce and expensive with many parents having to take low-paid jobs with inflexible hours to make ends meet and maintain such benefits as they were entitled to. Indeed, it was agreed that this was a 'safeguarding issue' in a significantly impoverished area of Lambeth.

Following that meeting and recognising the very short timescale we had to develop a business plan we worked hard to do so. We consulted with possible partners, such as Lambeth Play Association and the Black Prince Community Trust. We tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain from your officers details of the terms under which the Council would be outsourcing this provision and what the liabilities would be, particularly in relation to existing staff and maintenance issues. Officers were courteous, but uninformative.

In the middle of August we were told two new things: that Lollard Street AP would be reducing its opening hours to one session on a weekday only. There would be no Saturday opening. Secondly, the Council would be seeking to offer our building to other voluntary groups who needed meeting provision. Officers would be calling a meeting of 'stakeholders' on 18th August at Lollard Street to tell us about the Cooperative Council (the Council seems to have found money to employ a consultant to do that) and what was the future for us.

Few, if any, stakeholders attended that meeting but the FOLSAP officers were there as arranged. We were told that bids had already been invited from play organisations currently under contract with the Council. The tender process would be closed on August 31st and our AP would be totally closed during the Bank Holiday week despite the fact that children were still on school holiday.

We were also told that there was no £45,000.00 available to a local management project. We asked for details of the Tender Specification and the list of approved contractors but officers did not feel able to share this with us without further advice.

Subsequently, I received from Sarah Warman both the Specification and the Approved List. I have to say that I was surprised to discover that the voluntary Adventure Playgrounds, far from being placed alongside the Council-run ones as you had explained, were actually on the Approved List for taking over the Council-run ones. I was also dismayed to see that the list included some projects that charge for entry.

Along with this information Sarah has also invited FOLSAP to a meeting on September 2nd to see how we could interact with the new provider.

What can I say? We all appreciate the position in which local authorities find themselves. We also thought we understood the ethos behind the 'Cooperative Council' but this experience has been an appalling one. Firstly, it all started too late, well after the Council knew where these cuts would lie. Secondly, Councillors and officers have presented mixed messages, not I think deliberately, but through incompetence and poor coordination. Thirdly, the Council has not acted with transparency and some of us are very doubtful as to the propriety of the tender process and the speed with which it has been implemented. Lastly, as we understand it, the successful bidder will take over its role next week, but only until April 1st. Is that right?

I went to the Kennington AP this morning and found just a scrawled ungrammatical note pinned to the gate saying that it would be closed this week. No explanation or other information about when it might be open. Two little boys were there with their table tennis bats. Their parents were back at work.
At Lollard Street there is no notice, just the timetable of the previous full week’s activities.
Is this the best we can all do for our kids?

Yours sincerely
Anna Tapsell
Hon Treasurer, Friends of Lollard Street Adventure Playground
Chair of Kennington Association


Cllr Steve Morgan said...

From: Robbins,Peter Cllr
To: Kennington Association

Hi Anna,

Apologies for not being able to reply to previous emails, as you will hopefully have seen from out-of-office replies I was away on annual leave until last week. Cllr Harrison and the other Princes ward councillors have also contacted myself and officers in the last few weeks, and I met with officers to discuss yesterday.

I know that you are aware of the position that the council has been forced into – the Coalition government has cut our funding by a third (equating to £12m of cuts in 2011/12 in CYPS alone, with more to come), and that they further reduced grant funding for children and young people by 20% (£5m) – part of which has always been used to fund adventure play. I don’t need to rehearse the arguments about ensuring that we protect our most vulnerable children by protecting children’s social care, children in care, children with disabilities, and that by protecting these areas we have been forced to look at reducing costs in non-statutory areas.

I’m very sorry that you feel the council has been uncommunicative and that you have received mixed messages – I apologise if I have played any part in that. As you know, we intend to make new arrangements for the seven council-run adventure playgrounds, which will see much more control and power to be given to groups such as FoLSAP. The date by which we intend the new co-operative council solution for adventure playgrounds to be in place has not changed - April 2012 – and a large amount of work is already underway, with users and parents are a central part of that.

However I was clear that the council were seeking to find an organisation to manage and deliver services at the seven council run playgrounds, purely as an interim measure, until the end of March 2012. We approached all existing Lambeth play providers, including the other voluntary sector APGs, to gauge interest. Yesterday I agreed that FoLSAP should be given the opportunity to help decide which organisation that should be, and I am sure that the interim provider will work closely with you.

For legal reasons, we cannot currently commission opening hours beyond those which were originally agreed by council – full time opening during school holidays, and one day a week during term time. However we want to work with you to find other groups that may be able to use the building and playground at other times, and increase the offer to local children.

Nearby, Kennington Park APG has also been reduced to one day a week opening, but Triangle APG and the Living Space APG will continue to operate their usual opening hours.

The option is absolutely still open for the Friends of Lollard Street AP to form an independent organisation, similar to those that run eight of Lambeth’s fifteen existing adventure playgrounds, and take over the running of the playground from April 2012, funded by the council in the same way as the other independent playgrounds. However this will need more than just a business plan – FoLSAP will need to be a legal entity (charity, Trust etc), and naturally would need to undergo basic checks in terms of safeguarding etc before being able to take full control.

I am not going to pretend that this is a perfect solution, and it is clearly proving to be a difficult process – but the other options of closure, or of introducing a permanent reduction in opening hours, are much worse. The cooperative council route offers a long-term, sustainable solution, with the local community in control.

I am due to meet with you this Friday and of course I’d be happy to discuss everything further then.

Best wishes,


Cllr Pete Robbins
Labour Councillor for Larkhall ward
Cabinet member for Children and Young People

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