Jowell in 'U-turn' on play funding

London Play has accused the Government of reneging on a pre-election pledge to ring-fence £200m of lottery money for children's play.

In yet another voluntary sector attack on changes to the distribution of National Lottery good cause money, London Play claims the U-turn will affect the most deprived children in the capital and cost many jobs in the play sector.

In a letter last week to Frank Dobson MP, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said it was "already widely known that a decision has been taken not to ring-fence lottery money for play".

Dobson led a review of children's play two years ago that recommended how best to spend the £200m earmarked for play from the New Opportunities Fund. His report was published in January 2004 and he has been awaiting a response from the DCMS ever since.

In the letter, Jowell acknowledged that there was "some consternation among the play sector about the decision - and the possibility that we are now reneging on our commitment". But she assures Dobson that this was not the case.

"We are as committed as ever to seeing children's play areas transformed by lottery money. The decision not to have a specific pot of money is because we feel the lottery should not work in this way - for any area of funding."

Jowell said the Government felt that lottery money could be more effective in promoting children's play if it was left to the discretion of lottery distributors to respond to the needs of local communities.

"Our proposals reflect the fact that play projects are likely to come in many forms and contribute towards outcomes in different ways.

"Overall we expect funding for play projects to reach at least £200m across the UK between 2006 and 2012. Be sure that play is as important as ever to this Government," she wrote.

But London Play director Dr Ute Navidi said: "I am not sure whether 'consternation' describes how our members feel about the missing £200m."

She was convinced children's play in the capital would suffer, as a ring-fenced budget was essential for long-term viability and future planning.

Funds that were meant to be assigned for play projects would now be diverted to meet other local authority priority needs, Navidi warned.

FACT FILE

- Government is accused of doing a T-turn on its pre-election pledge to ring-fence £200m for children's play

- Tessa Jowell insists the Government remains committed to play

- Funding for play projects to reach at least £200m by 2012, says Jowell

- London Play fears the money will go to other local priorities.

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