Responses to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted to all local authorities shows 48 (31 per cent) had closed playgrounds between April 2010 and October 2013, accounting for 145 unstaffed and 23 staffed facilities.
The cuts have resulted in widespread job losses among play professionals, with 62 per cent of councils reporting they now employ fewer full-time staff than in 2010, and 22 per cent saying they no longer have any play staff.
The FoI data also reveals that local authority spending on play has fallen from £67.9m in 2010/11 to £41.5m in 2013/14, a drop of £26.4m. Broken down by spending type, it shows:
- Capital spending fell from £37.8m in 2010 to £18.8m in 2013 (50 per cent cut)
- Revenue spending fell by £7.3m between 2010 and 2013 (39 per cent cut)
- Maintenance spending remained largely unchanged at just 0.5 per cent down
Of the 119 councils that provided data on capital spending, 69 (58 per cent) had cut that budget over the three-year period, with the average reduction being £334,337. Bradford (£1.17m), Durham (£911,00) and Poole (£850,000) reported the largest reductions.
Of the 51 councils that provided data on revenue spending, 36 (71 per cent) were now spending less compared to 2010, with the average reduction being £198,000. Newcastle reported the largest fall at almost £1.2m.
The spending cuts – the scale of which councils blamed on a reduction in central government support – saw the average local authority lose 2.4 per cent of its overall play provision. However, this masked huge variation among areas; for example, Sunderland City Council closed 15 unstaffed playgrounds representing 12 per cent of its overall provision.
Adventure playgrounds staffed by professional play workers took the brunt of the cuts. The responses show that one in six of these facilities have closed since 2010, with five of the 34 councils that provided data saying they had closed all staffed play services over that period.
Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of the responding councils had closed staffed playgrounds since 2010. Peterborough (8), Newcastle (5), Wandsworth and Wolverhampton (both 3) accounted for most of these.
The extent of the cuts to staffed provision prompted Catherine Prisk, director of Play England, to warn that adventure playgrounds could soon be a thing of the past.
She said: “I would be gobsmacked if the adventure playgrounds we still have are here in the next three years. The chances of new ones coming on board are zero.”
Independent play expert Tim Gill said the cuts translate into fewer opportunities for children to play outdoors.
He added: “Many [children] will end up bored and stuck indoors – especially in disadvantaged areas where parks, play areas and green spaces are often poor or non-existent, and where local authorities have historically invested in staffed facilities.”
Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, warned that councils might have to make further cuts to play services in response to dwindling resources.
“In 2015/16 and 2016/17, we will see significant further reductions in council budgets and the consequence of that will mean many services will just cease to exist,” he added.
To read the full investigation see the current issue of CYP Now or click here