I hope you received my emails dated 13th and 16th August, as I have had no acknowledgement.
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.
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?
Chair of Kennington Association